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Two years of mandatory participation in Reserved Officers Training Corp. at Morgan State University in the late 1960s turned into something far greater for Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the fifth black four-star general in U.S. Army history. Now, as the first commander of the U.S. Africa Command, Ward is responsible for helping 53 African nations develop more effective security and military practices. Before being honored with the “Chairman’s Award for Leadership” by the 100 Black Men of America Inc. last week, Ward sat down for an exclusive interview with BlackEnterprise.com to discuss the importance of black colleges, ROTC, and the U.S.’s strategy to deter piracy in Africa.
BlackEnterprise.com: What do you think Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can do to assist young African American men and women who are interested in achieving a career in the military?
Gen. William “Kip” Ward: First and foremost, they can provide a quality education. That obviously will set our youngsters up for a career in the military or any other endeavor. I think the educational background is the basic ingredient, and it is certainly something that I was very blessed to receive from Morgan State University. HBCUs provide an atmosphere that nurtures and cares, but doesn’t cajole or coddle the student either. That supportive environment says you can be anything you want to be. Those qualities give HBCUs great merit.
What programs has the Army implemented to encourage African Americans to rise through the ranks the way that you did?
The Junior ROTC program on high school campuses does not presuppose a commitment to the military. It provides a structured environment that allows men and women to be responsible, display initiative, and take responsibility for their actions. Clearly those who continue to pursue that in a military career are well served by those experiences, but those life skills are also applicable and transferrable in many fields of endeavor.