Flush with victory from Operation Desert Storm, U.S. Army ROTC leaders pummeled critics and praised black military participation during a conference yesterday at Morgan State University.
"Out of [Desert Storm] comes increased opportunities for young men and women," said Maj. Gen. Wallace C. Arnold, head of the nation's ROTC program, referring to expanded career possibilities for gulf veterans. "Anyone who criticizes that is not criticizing the right thing.
"We have also heard the comment that a large number of minority young people are in the military, because that's the only thing they can find to do. I am aghast at that statement."
General Arnold was among the featured speakers at the 15th annual Historically Black Colleges/Universities Army ROTC Conference. More than 125 participants -- presidents and professors of military science at 20 historically black schools as well as Army ROTC staff -- gathered at the McKeldin Center Ballroom at Morgan State to discuss "ROTC -- Preparation for Excellence in Life."
The ROTC program trains college men and women to become military officers. There are currently 40,000 ROTC cadets on 350 colleges and universities nationwide. These programs produce about 70 percent of the officers who go into active duty.
Earl S. Richardson, Morgan State's president, echoed the conference theme at a news conference yesterday.
"When we see men like [Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman] Gen. Colin Powell or General Arnold, they provide role models for our students," said Dr. Richardson, who is also an
ROTC graduate. "This provides wonderful opportunities for leadership."
Conference participants decried criticism of black participation in the Persian Gulf war. Some black community leaders had suggested blacks were not offered equal opportunities in civilian life but were used as cannon fodder during wartime.
That view was rebutted down the line.
"That's not even an issue for me," said Cadet Eric Brown, a freshmen at Morgan State. "This is an opportunity for everyone. It's a privilege to serve in the U.S. Army if you are a young person."
Cadet Brown, one of 75 participants in the Morgan State ROTC program, served in the Army for two years before winning an ROTC scholarship. He plans to study engineering and return to the military. While stationed in Arizona, Cadet Brown was impressed by GeneralPowell.
"He stood out among 40 or 50 generals," Cadet Brown said. "I saw his stars and I thought, if he could do it, why can't I?"
About 18 percent of the 40,000 ROTC cadets are black, said an ROTC spokesman. ROTC, along with the rest of the U.S. Army, has been scaled down, but the percentage of blacks has remained constant for several years.
General Arnold, noting that historically black colleges and universities were exempt from a recent round of ROTC cutbacks, challenged conference participants to maintain their standards and to use Desert Storm to boost recruitment.
Conference participants said ROTC is respected on most historically black campuses, unlike those of some state universities and private schools where the ROTC ban on homosexuals has led to protests.