A 1970 University of Idaho graduate, Gen. James Amos, 66, has held a range of commands in the Marine Corps, including the battle-proven 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Earlier this year, Amos addressed the Stars and Stripes Dinner at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA), even bringing the president’s band in tow. In his remarks, Amos promised to press hard to make the Marine Corps leadership ranks more diverse. Amos also discussed the reliance of the military on technology and the engineers who produce the innovation. Lightly edited excerpts of his speech follow here:
“I went to BEYA last year, and I was a brand new service chief. And Willie Williams and Ron Coleman, who are like brothers to me, said, ‘Sir, you’ve got to go.’ And I said, ‘Well, what is it?’
“Well, it’s the Black Engineer of the Year Award. And they said, ‘Sir, you just have to go,” and we went. And I committed that night¯and I committed that night that as long as I were ever to wear this uniform on active duty, that I would make every single one of these things. I can’t think – when I think about our service in¯and I really speak on behalf of all the service chiefs. I mean, I’m absolutely confident of this, I can’t think of a more important place to be than to be here tonight and to honor our engineers. I’m proud to be here. “And I won’t miss another one, and I’m proud of my leadership that showed up here today mentoring.
We were talking this evening about how important mentoring is. We made a commitment about 15 months ago in the Marine Corps that we are going to turn things around. We’ve got great young African-American enlisted and great young African-American officers, but somewhere along the line in the officer corps, we have¯we fall short of the mentoring, and we’re changing that.
We’re making a commitment, and we’re committed as the Marine Corps, to turn that around.
“We want to make a home for our African-American engineers, our officers, our young enlisted men and women. We want to bring them into our Corps. I’m committed to this, and our Marine Corps is committed to this, and this is the reason why you see all these two- and three-star and one-star generals we have here tonight.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is critically important for the future of our country. “Think about what’s happening in cyberspace. Think about what could happen on the World Wide Web. Think about what could happen in our own country with things like our banking system. Think about our military. Think about command and control. “Then, switch gears and go into the technology and the engineering that MIT and Georgia Tech and other great engineering institutions across this nation provide. Lockheed Martin with 6 million lines of code on the Joint Strike Fighter. Think about those great ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] platforms that we cannot get enough of. If you’re a commander on the ground, you can’t have enough technology and capability streaming into your command post. That didn’t come by a finance major from Idaho. That came from a young man or woman that had the wherewithal and the education to reach out and bring that to bear and focus it tightly on things like unmanned aerial systems.
“The airplanes we’re developing right now and the systems that we’re flying, Raytheon’s missiles, Raytheon’s capabilities, Boeing’s, Lockheed Martin’s and all the companies and corporations that support them rely on young men and women to graduate from high school to take an interest, college to take an interest. They either go into industry¯and I’ll be honest with you right now. I’m on a recruiting effort. It’s not that I don’t care about industry, but I want to bring them to the United States Marine Corps, and I want to make them wear this uniform, and I want to change their lives forever. But, regardless, that’s what this is all about¯that and the mentoring of our young African-American men and women.
“... You know, about 15-16 months ago, I was thinking about, and I had some reasons to think about, a group of Marines from years ago that also shared that indomitable spirit. They don’t have anything to do with science and engineering and technology and math, but they had everything to do about young African-American men that joined an organization in 1942 called the Marine Corps. You see, President Roosevelt, under the wise guidance of his wife, said, ‘We need to integrate the services, and we need to be about it,” and President Roosevelt signed his presidential directive. And the Marine Corps went out and began to recruit, and between 1942 and 1949, we recruited 20,000 African-American men to join our service.
“... During that period of time, these African-American men joined my Corps, and we put them in a segregated boot camp in North Carolina. Now, think about that. We put them there, and we said, ‘OK. We want you to be Marines, but we’re going to make it different for you.” They came, and with that indomitable spirit that resides in Americans, they overcame. They went to war. They did really, really well.”