Four retired military generals discussed the role of African-Americans in the war on terrorism last night at Morgan State University, including the potential for minority-owned businesses to win homeland security contracts.
"Terrorism knows no color and technology knows no color," said Gen. Lester L. Lyles, who retired last year as vice chief of staff at the Air Force headquarters in Washington. An engineer, he spent three decades designing planes for the military.
Lyles went on to tell an audience of about 200 people at the Morgan School of Engineering that the United States has been surpassed by other nations in technological prowess. He urged students who attended the session -- entitled "A Town Hall Meeting on National Security; African-American Participation in the Global War on Terrorism" -- to concentrate on math and science.
"We are no longer the leaders, and it is a national security issue," Lyles said, adding that blacks with technological expertise could "lead the way" to a new era of American dominance in areas of engineering, medical technology and scientific research. "This is a crisis, and it needs to be dealt with."
Another member of the panel was Lt. Gen. Albert J. Edmonds, who retired from the Air Force in 1997 as director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which oversees communications and computer intelligence for all branches of the military. He told students that they should apply for internships in defense and military fields now so that they can begin the security-clearance process, which he said can take months -- longer if there is an arrest record.
"This technology is not owned by anyone," Edmonds said. "If you work hard and apply yourself, you can do anything."
The retired generals said they were upset that the mainstream media has not done a better job of spotlighting the military heroism of African-American men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they said, most of the faces shown on CNN and in the pages of local newspapers are white.
"Because of the resolve of our young men and women, there was a free election in Afghanistan," said Gen. Johnnie Wilson, who retired from the Army in 1999 as commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. Wilson noted that 26 percent of soldiers in the Army are black -- the largest minority group represented.
Wilson and the other panel members declined to discus whether blacks are being disproportionately affected by the war on terrorism, either in terms of casualties or recruitment by military branches. They said they had not prepared comments on the subject, even though a press announcement of the event stated it would be among the topics discussed.
The generals also talked about new opportunities for minority business to do contract work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Federal Aviation Administration, the latter of which has been mandated by Congress to improve national air travel, including air traffic control and passenger plane design, no later than 2025.