WASHINGTON -- The end of the Persian Gulf war means the nation may face a "domestic storm" as thousands of black servicemen and women are forced out of the military to confront unemployment and racism, black leaders and Pentagon officials warn.
"We want to help our soldiers so they don't end up on the streets or unemployment lines, because we know what problems that generates," said Linda White, an Army civilian in charge of
helping outgoing soldiers find work in the civilian economy.
"They've earned more than a parade -- they've earned a chance," said Walter C. Carrington, who warned of a "domestic storm" if black veterans can't find jobs.
"The signs should say not just 'Welcome home,' but 'Welcome home and here's a job,'" said Carrington, a consultant with the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies, a black-issues study group that sponsored yesterday's symposium.
At a day-long discussion, Pentagon officials and social scientists discussed how the Pentagon could smoothly muster out as many as 110,000 blacks over the coming five years, as the Defense Department trims its total uniformed force from about 2 million to 1.5 million.
RF "While the reduction will cause jobs to disappear for military per
sonnel of all races, blacks in uniform will be forced into a civilian job market that is decidedly less friendly to them than to others," Army Col. Michael J. Shane said in a paper released at the session.
"For thousands of black Americans currently serving in the military or looking ahead to military service as a part of their career plans, the draw-down will reduce solid job opportunities and excellent prospects of upward mobility," Shane said.
Twenty years ago, the nation's inner-city youth "would have had military service as an option -- they don't have that option" anymore, said Ron Walters, chairman of the political science department at Howard University.
Blacks constitute 21 percent of the active-duty American military, including 29 percent of the Army, 16 percent of the Navy, 19 percent of the Marines and 15 percent of the Air Force.
OC The switch from government to private payroll may be especially
jarring for black service members, because they will shift from a meritocracy to a civilian work force weakened by a recession that may heighten racial tensions, both black and white speakers agreed.
While most of the reductions will be accomplished by reduced recruiting and early retirements, there will be thousands of volunteer service members forced out of the military against their will, Shane said.
Undersecretary of the Army John W. Shannon said the nation's private employers should rush to hire departing soldiers. "They're the best-educated young people in the United States and they're well-disciplined," said Shannon, the Pentagon's senior black civilian official. "It won't be easy for the private sector not to use them."
In addition to career counseling and legal help, enlisted soldiers -- for the first time -- will receive cash bonuses when they leave. A soldier with 10 years' experience can expect to receive an $18,000 payment, Shane said.