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John R. Hawkins III

As spring comes into full bloom, colleges across the nation are focusing on their upcoming commencements. They are called commencements because the event celebrating the completion of a course of study is as much a new beginning, prayerfully prepared by the completed course of study. It also brings to mind commissioning ceremonies recognizing the completion of ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Course) at many colleges and universities that equally have provided the necessary preparation for individuals to go forward and realize their full potentialpersonally and professionally.

It is important to note that for many years ROTC programs at many colleges and universities have provided African Americans a way to achieve greatness both professionally and financially. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a prominent place among the ranks of those universities. HBCUs such as Howard, Morgan, Bowie State, Hampton, North Carolina A&T and many others have provided “class” educations to thousands of African Americans through ROTC programs.  This year Army ROTC celebrates its 100th anniversary and the 98th anniversary at Howard University with much ceremony from the Army’s world renowned ceremonial “The Old Guard”.

It is of particular note that many of the educations of society’s leading African Americans were provided through ROTC scholarship programs. Army, Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps provide the opportunity for “free” college educations through their scholarship programs.  These scholarship programs provide for free tuition, books, a stipend and often universities will pay the room and board of the scholarship students with their tuition being paid on time by the US government.

While it is true that a period of service is required upon completion, it is a misconception that one must serve in combat positions for the rest of their twenties and thirties. Often no combat position service is required.  The service required often can be fulfilled in the Reserve or National Guard while living as a full-time civilian and, if on active duty, can be fulfilled in 2 or 4 years and served as an officer. According to most polls on professions, officer is the most respected profession in the United States.

It is not surprising that service as a military officer is one of the most widely respected professions when one realizes that ROTC is the only college course of study that concentrates on integrity, leadership, duty, honor, country and something called “…selfless-service,”  and above all technical proficiency. Of course, there is an emphasis on being the absolute best military leader possible as proved by the existence of Colin Powel, Morgan State’s Kip Ward and Larry Ellis, Howard’s Lester Lyle and currently serving as the senior military purchaser of goods and services world-wide Dennis Via of Virginia State, all 4 Star generals through ROTC.

In fact most of the African American military senior leaders,  including the African American Secretary of the Army Togo West and the Asst. Secretary of the Air Force Rodney Coleman, both Howard graduates, got their preparation through ROTC.

The counseling and mentoring, along with an emphasis on integrity and leadership, has boded well for civilian success among those receiving ROTC educations as well. Many great African American business leaders, leaders in medicine, dentistry, law, engineering and education have parleyed their ROTC education and experiences into great achievements in their professions and for our society.

The personal caring and counseling that the instructor staffs in ROTC provide is not matched by many on college campuses today with instructors in other curriculum being forced to conduct research, publish and teach certain technical proficiencies. In fact, at many universities such as Howard, the ROTC program has been recognized as a “named minor in Leadership.” Further, when serving as a Professor of Military Science at The Johns Hopkins University, I recall numerous times when even non-ROTC students came to me and other members of the ROTC staff for counseling due to the over-crowdedness of the university counseling service and lack of available time on the part of their subject-matter professors to provide such counseling.

Let it be clear, this is not a recruitment pitch. However, from my foxhole, being an African American from the inner city of Washington DC and having completed Howard undergad, graduate school at American U., a law degree at American U., more law studies at the University of London and a national security fellowship at Harvard University (all for free – paid by the US Army) the military can be a way to realize the education required in today’s world.

Maj. Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was Dir., Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that Deputy Chief Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.