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More than ever, black men should consider the military

December 2, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( As we recently celebrated Veterans Day, now, more than ever, is a good time for African-American men to seek opportunities to serve in the Army. Service in the Army directly addresses all of the social plagues in the black community: education, health care, economic status, homeownership, and crime.

Since 1776, blacks have taken up arms in defense of this country and it is the service of men like Crispus Attucks, Henry O. Flipper, Charles Young, and Benjamin O. Davis that made integration a point of discussion. Recognizing the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen, 761st Tank Battalion, and “Triple Nickels” in 1948, President Harry S Truman signed an Executive Order that integrated the Armed Forces. Executive Order 9981 states: It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin…

Since then, most positive gains made in the status of black Americans can be directly attributed to men who served in the military. The black middle class expanded after World War II as veterans went from combat to college; funded by the G.I. Bill. In fact, black enrollment tripled from 1 percent in 1940 to 3.6 percent in 1950. This growth continued to spike after the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars. These Soldiers opted to join an entity larger than themselves and work toward goals with complete strangers united by a common calling to “defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

During the persistent state of conflict we find ourselves in with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some vehemently argue against encouraging family members to join. Sadly, the alternative for many is worse than the perils of combat.

MYTH: Grandma says, “Don’t join the Army because you will die in Iraq.”

FACT: Black men are more likely to die in the streets of America, often by their own neighbors, than by the hands of enemy on foreign battlefields.

According to the Deptment of Defense as of Nov. 9, 2007: Between Mar 2003 and November, a total of 363 blacks have been killed in Iraq. In contrast, in 2006, alone 7,421 blacks were murdered —93 percent by other Blacks.

In no way, am I attempting to diminish the hazards of combat nor minimize the sacrifice of any tragic death at the hands of friend or foe. To a mother, a child’s death is equally gut-wrenching. I’ve been to memorials for fallen soldiers and civilians. The tears of despair are equal. Though we cannot place a value on life, it is probably fair to state a soldier leaves his family with resources to help bridge the loss of income in the household ($400,000 life insurance) and life-long medical and educational benefits. The overwhelming majority of my brothers gunned downed in the streets leave their loved ones with nothing but memories of a dream deferred and a box of empty Kleenex.

With the cost of housing, health-care, and tuition sky-rocketing the Army answers the questions faced by high-school graduates: How do I get ahead?

No kidding, young people who enlist today are eligible for bonuses (cash money) up to $40,000 for completing Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (job skills). A new recruit earns about $16,000 per year in base pay. But there’s more. That same young soldier gets free housing on-base or a non-taxed housing allowance to live in town. The housing on-base is devoid of the crime and strife often faced in low-income housing areas. In contrast, a young man who works at a fast-food restaurant for $7 an hour makes at best $14,560 per year. That’s assuming he works full-time for 52-weeks straight. If the soldier gets injured in the line-of-duty (meaning he is not “acting a fool” somewhere) his medical bills are FREE. That is 100 percent free, no co-pay, no nothing. If his young wife gets pregnant, the birth of their child is FREE. Married or not, the soldier gets a slight pay increase to provide for his children (child support). The child gets the free health care benefits—regardless of the parent’s relationship.

Speaking of health, the Army needs soldiers who are physically fit for duty, which means: no obesity, no HIV, and no debilitating mental illness. Clearly, you will be hard-pressed to find a civilian employer with the same commitment to taking care of its entry-level employees and their families. If the Soldier wants to take a vacation, the Army provides 30 days of paid leave per year. The aforementioned benefits are nice but there are more intangible benefits of service.

Everyone agrees there is one thing special the Army provides that is needed in many of our young men: discipline. The Army teaches and fosters a culture of discipline and high self-esteem. Soldiers are taught deference, pride, emphasizing team over individual and even grooming (we don’t allow saggin’ in uniform).

The next time you’re mulling over what advice to give a high school senior on how to start their career. Think of the options and think of the Army.

Written by Myles B. Caggins III

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