- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

As the nation’s military academies try to recruit more minorities, they aren’t getting much help from members of Congress from big-city districts with large numbers of blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, lawmakers from heavily minority areas rank at or near the bottom in the number of students they have nominated for appointment to West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to an Associated Press review of records from the past five years.

High school students applying to the academies must be nominated by a member of Congress or another high-ranking federal official. Congressional nominations account for about 75 percent of all students at the academies.

Academy records obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act show that lawmakers in roughly half of the 435 House districts nominated more than 100 students each during the five-year period.

But Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez of New York City, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, nominated only four students, the lowest among House members who served the entire five-year period. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, whose New York City district includes Harlem, was second-lowest, with eight nominations. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is 29 percent Asian, was also near the bottom, with 19.

In fact, the bottom 20 House members were all from districts where whites make up less than a majority.

“It’s beyond my imagination how someone that has the ability to nominate doesn’t do it,” Craig Duchossois said in December at his final meeting as chairman of the Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors.

He noted what an academy appointment means: a free four-year education and a guaranteed job as an officer for at least five years after graduation.

Ms. Velazquez, Mr. Rangel and Mrs. Pelosi, all Democrats, would not comment or did not return calls.

Academy leaders and some on Capitol Hill do not put all the blame on the politicians, pointing out that some districts might have a shortage of qualified candidates, either because students have not received the necessary academic preparation from their struggling schools, they are unaware of the opportunity, or they are not interested.

Although the burden is ultimately on students to apply, academy leaders and others said elected officials should be doing more to publicize the opportunity by doing such things as visiting schools.

The academies have approached dozens of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss attracting more minority students.

Also, the military recently put together a how-to booklet on minority recruiting and sent it to all congressional offices, said Charles Garcia, chairman of the Air Force Academy’s Board of Visitors.

In addition, the Air Force Academy has begun flying in congressional staff members from districts with few minority nominations for lessons on recruiting, Mr. Garcia said.

“We train them on ‘Here are the things other districts have done that is successful,’ ” he said. “We are hopeful that will have a huge impact going forward.”

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, whose district includes heavily Hispanic and black South Los Angeles and who is among the 20 lowest in nominations, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made young people in her district question military service. She said her efforts to reach out to high school students have not been successful.

“In the olden days, parents would even say to young African-Americans, ‘You aren’t doing anything. You don’t have a job. Why don’t you join the service?’ ” said Ms. Waters, who has nominated 14 students in the past five years. “They don’t quite do that anymore.”

Academy leaders have struggled to make the racial makeup of the military’s officer corps more closely resemble that of its enlisted ranks. The disparity is greatest in the Navy, with minorities making up about 48 percent of the enlisted ranks and just 21 percent of the officer corps.

The academies can cite some recent progress. The freshman class of 1,230 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis includes 435 students who are black, Hispanic, Asian-American, American Indian or part of another minority group. That is about 35 percent, up from 28 percent the previous year.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., there are 330 minorities in the freshman class of about 1,300, or about 25 percent, up from 22 percent in 2008. The freshman class of 1,376 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs includes 312 minorities, or 23 percent, also a slight increase from the previous class.

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