The Bayonet

Tuesday, Jun. 24, 2014

Why I Serve: Lieutenant colonel says Army needs diversity

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Of the more than 12,200 Armor and Infantry officers, more than 10,100 identify themselves as non-Hispanic whites, meaning there are just over 2,100 minority officers serving in the two branches. This places the percentage of minority officers in the two branches at just over 17 percent. In Why I Serve, Bayonet & Saber will highlight the stories of some of these minority officers at Fort Benning to share their experiences as a minority Soldier and to get their perspective on how more minorities can obtain leadership roles.

As a black man in a combat arms role, Lt. Col. Dawson Plummer is in the minority when compared to his combat arms brothers and sisters. As a black man commanding a battalion, Plummer finds himself in an even smaller minority.

Plummer, formerly the commander of 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, entered the Army as an Armor officer in 1994 after graduating from Tuskegee University. He said his experiences at Tuskegee, a historically black university, helped him to see why many minorities do not consider the Army or combat arms as a potential career path.

"One of the biggest stigmas that I've seen from visiting historically black universities goes back to the marketability once they get out of the Army," Plummer said. "Being an Armor officer and a combat arms officer, the biggest misconception I've seen is the idea that you're not going to be marketable out in the civilian sector, and that is definitely not the case."

He cited cases of numerous retired combat arms officers going on to hold high-ranking positions in civilian corporations as proof that serving in a combat arms role can ultimately benefit a Soldier's post-Army career.

"Combat arms teaches small unit leadership, and as you continue to move up the chain of command, you get to corporate-level leadership, which is what most people are looking for in a retired Soldier," he said. "They're not looking for people to turn screwdrivers and ratchets - they're looking for people who can manage organizations to accomplish the mission."

Some of his peers displayed a hesitancy to consider the Army as a career option, but Plummer said he was certain of his desire to enlist early on.

"What I saw from ROTC in high school and by looking at some of the folks I knew who were in the Army was that the Army was one of the greatest equal opportunity employers the United States has," Plummer said. "As I looked more at the Armor portion of the Army, I saw that a lot of the decision makers came out of Armor and Infantry and combat arms, and I wanted to be one of those people who would make those decisions out there in combat."

Early in his military career, Plummer said he faced racial discrimination, which has only served to motivate him to eliminate that type of treatment now that he is in a leadership role.

"As you continue to move up and you look at a corporate view of the military and you see certain things, you're able to influence the dynamic and influence the command climate so discrimination can be limited and even negated," he said. "It's very important to reinforce that there's no white, black, blue, yellow or any other color. There's no race, religion, creed or anything of that matter. We're all brothers and sisters in the Army. We're all here to serve. I like to say we're all just different shades of green."

He said he would like to see more minorities in positions of leadership, but also said that the solution is not minority-specific.

"Other minorities do need to encourage other minorities, but at the same time, a lot of my mentors were white," Plummer said. "It's something that has be tackled at just about every angle. It has to be done at the collegiate level with ROTC at the military academies and it also has to be done with leaders who are in command right now who need to show that it does not matter what race you are, what religion you are or whether or you're male or female. If commanders and leaders show that and reinforce that it doesn't matter who or what you are, but how you perform, then that's what will motivate people."

Plummer said having Soldiers of different backgrounds is ultimately a benefit to the Army. "Minorities, majorities, it doesn't matter what sex you are, what religion you are," he said. "The main thing is we all have a shared belief. That shared belief starts with the core of our Army values and with a shared belief in respecting one another.

"With those shared beliefs, we can accomplish any mission. Some of the best teams I've ever seen were the ones that had the most diversity - people who came from all different backgrounds, creeds, colors and religions."

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