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Marine Corps Seeks to Diversify Its Ranks

April 10, 1994 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ The few, the proud - the diverse?

Well, not yet, but the Marine Corps says it’s working toward that goal.

The Corps admits it has had problems recruiting and promoting minority officers in the past. Now it has special programs in place to try to correct that.

A first step was assigning someone to oversee the effort. Lt. Col. Alfonse G. Davis is the new equal opportunity adviser to the Marine Corps commandant.

″I’m a common sense guy who says, ’Hey, these are the things we need to do to make sure that our service appears attractive to everybody,‴ Davis said.

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Recruiters say it won’t be easy to find the right minority officer candidates.

″Our competition is not the Army or the Air Force or the Navy,″ said 1st Lt. Robert Bradley Deardorff, a selection officer based in Raleigh. ″Our competition is the civilian marketplace, the Fortune 500 companies. We’re looking for the same quality students.″

The effort to find those students begins with re-educating Deardorff and other recruiters.

″Everybody like me is getting information pushed down in the chain of command concerning what our records have been in the past, what our goals have been in the past and what our goals will be in the future,″ he said.

In 1942, the Marine Corps admitted its first black, becoming the last branch of the military to do so. And while the number of minorities in the Corps is growing, the proportion of minority officers still is relatively small, the Corps admits.

There were two black Marine colonels in 1982, compared with 15 today, according to the public affairs department at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington.

The Corps says it doesn’t keep a day-to-day count of total Marines, but it said its 1994 planning goal was 174,000.

One aspect of the Corps’ efforts to diversify is a program called the 2015 Plan, which seeks to have 5 percent black colonels and 4.75 percent Hispanic colonels by the year 2015.

Why not sooner? Because, according to Marine Corps statistics, it takes 22 years to turn a 2nd lieutenant into a colonel.

Other aspects of the campaign include a direct-mail program aimed at honors students and members of the National Society of Black Engineers, and recruiting visits to colleges and universities with large minority populations.

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One such visit was a minority forum held Thursday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Davis was joined there by retired Brig. Gen. George H. Walls Jr., who offered students a historical perspective.

″When I joined the Marine Corps, there were 97 black officers out of about 24,000 officers,″ Walls said. ″We pretty much knew each other.″

Racial bias in the Marines gained national attention in November when Corps commandant Gen. Carl Mundy told ″60 Minutes″ minority officers didn’t shoot, swim or use compasses as well as white officers.

He later apologized for the comments, which he said referred to scores from military skills exams given at the end of The Basic School for officers.

Since the public outcry over Mundy’s remarks, the Marines have taken another look at the exam process, Davis said.