Growing numbers of black women see military service as ticket to a stable career

Black women can succeed beyond expectations in the military service, says Sherian Grace Cadoria. She is a brigadier general -- the first woman to be elevated to that rank in the Provost Marshal Corps, a part of US Army usually reserved for men. Commissioned into the service after graduation from college in 1961, General Cadoria encourages minority women to enlist. She stresses the opportunities for women in the military services.

Her promotion to general July 2 symbolizes the progress achieved by black women in the military in recent years.

Black women are joining the armed forces and keeping their commitment in increasing numbers. At the end of fiscal 1984 there were 49,764 black women in the service, accounting for 28.9 percent of all enlisted women in the nation's armed forces, according to figures from the Defense Manpower Data Center. The figures were collected for a study by the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black public-policy research group in Washington, D.C. By contrast, there were 10,363 black women (16.9 percent of all enlisted women) in the service in 1974 and 31,266 (23.9 percent) in 1979.

Another study of volunteers in 1980 slowed that as ``a minority within a minority,'' only 34 percent of the black women failed to complete their three-year enlistment compared with 54 percent of the white women, says Charles Moskos, sociology professor at Northwestern University and a specialist in military manpower. The comparable figures among males are 32 percent for blacks and 40 percent for whites.

These numbers are ``striking,'' says James R. Daugherty, a senior fellow specializing in military affairs at the Joint Center and the one who conducted the center's study. Black females are flocking to the military, he says, although three years ago critics openly questioned ``the overrepresentation of blacks'' in the all volunteer force (AVF).

``No one has focused on the extreme overrepresentation of black women in the military and what it means for society, for the services, or for the women themselves,'' he wrote in ``Black Women in the Military,'' in the July 1985 Focus, a monthly newsletter for the Joint Center. He suggests that further study is needed on these issues.

Critics have said that too many blacks, minorities, and poor people are joining the AVF. Some experts have proposed returning to a universal draft to induct more whites.

Why do black women join the military service?

``The military is the only major institution in America that is truly mixed -- racially integrated, male and female, grass roots and middle class,'' says Dr. Moskos.

``Black women probably are trying to reshape their lives, trying to get away from a dead-end existence. They seek stability. They are more likely to view the military as a career,'' he says.

Many black women enlist and reenlist because of ``lack of opportunity'' in the civilian work force, Moskos says. In civilian life they are 40 percent of personnel in nonprofit industries and 30 percent of service enterprises, he adds.

Opportunity for black women to become commissioned officers has increased greatly, says Lt. Col. Peter Wyro, a Pentagon spokesman. As of June 30, 1985, 9.6 percent (or 29,665) of all officers in the armed services were women, and of those, 12.3 percent were black, says Colonel Wyro.

In 1979, the nation had only 18,916 female officers, 8.9 percent of whom were black, he notes.

Responding to assertions that there are too many blacks and women in the service, Colonel Wyro says, ``There is no problem of having too many women or too many black female officers as long as we have the best person we can select, regardless of sex or race.''

Women in the military are still clustered in ``traditionally female occupations,'' the Nurses Corps and the Adjutant General Corps, asserts Mr. Daugherty.

But General Cadoria points out that ``enlisted women are eligible for 321 of 376 job classifications. Officers are eligible for 202 of 211 duties.''

Daugherty poses ``unanswered'' questions: Are the experiences of black and white women the same in the military? Can the ``relative success'' of black women give the military fresh ideas on increasing the ``chances for success of black men, white women, and the AVF as a whole?''

``A woman is sure to progress in any walk of civilian life because of her military service, especially in this age of high technology,'' says General Cadoria. GRAPH: Black women in the military All enlisted women Black enlisted women '74 '79 '84 200 100 0 IN THOUSANDS 16.9% 23.9% 28.9% all women-61,328, Black-10,363

131,021, 31,266

172,159, 49,764 Source: Defense Manpower Data Center

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