Category Archives: Black History Month

African Americans in the U.S. Army

By Brig. Gen Paul E. Owen, Commander, Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

February is Black History Month across the Nation. Since 1976, the President has officially designated February as the time for this annual observance, which dates back to the early 1900s. In 1926, it was scheduled for the second week in February to coincide with the birthdates of President Abraham Lincoln and African American orator and statesman Frederick Douglass.

The theme for 2018 is “African Americans in Times of War,” commemorating the centennial of the end of the First World War in 1918, and highlighting the service and sacrifice of African Americans during wartime, from the Revolutionary War to present.

For Army soldiers and civilians, the theme this year has a special significance, as we honor those African Americans who have served so bravely in the defense of our Nation. We stand in the shadows of the courage and devotion to duty of African American soldiers such as the slaves who joined the Continental Army in exchange for the promise of freedom; the Buffalo Soldiers; the Tuskegee Airmen; the “Triple Nickels,” the all-black airborne unit in World War II, and so many others.

In fact, more than 350,000   African Americans served in segregated units during World War I, mostly as support troops. About 125,000 served overseas in World War II, leading President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the military in 1948. Today more than 195,000 African Americans—about 19 percent– serve in the Army’s Total Force. They serve in almost every specialty and at every level. Additionally, almost 40,000 Department of the Army civilians are African American. Within USACE, African Americans number more than 3000, or about 10 percent of the USACE workforce.

The month is about much more than statistics and numbers, however. It is about our history as a Nation, our values as Americans, and the outstanding contributions of those who often overcame tremendous odds to succeed. It is also about our future, as we seek to increase the numbers of African Americans in STEM pathways and careers to help ensure the continued prosperity and success of our Nation.

I encourage each of you to learn more about the African American heritage that helped shape our country. Take some time to study and reflect on those who have served our Army and our Nation with great honor and distinction, building a legacy of courage that surely will inspire future generations.

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SWD Black History Month Spotlight: Ernest Burford

Burford 2New Orleans, Louisiana native Ernest Burford serves as Assistant Division Counsel for the Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dallas, Texas, a position he’s held since 2009.

As an SWD attorney Burford works to resolve key issues in civil works, labor and employment, and federal regulatory areas of law.

Black History Month

Before joining the Corps he worked as a litigator at several federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, the U.S. Postal Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. His areas of practice include labor and employment, civil works, environmental law, real estate, administrative law and general law.

Burford has been in practice for more than 25 years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Louisiana State University and a Juris Doctor from Southern University Law Center.

Q. Have you encountered any education challenges or hurdles that you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today?

A. When I attended LSU in the late 70s, the campus was not a place that was welcoming to African Americans outside of the sporting events. David Duke, a Ku Klux Klan leader, was a regular speaker at the Student Union where large crowds of students supported his racist message.

Q. Is there a defining moment from your formative years where you made a personal decision to get the education and experience you need to be where you are now in your career?

A. I attended Catholic schools until I went to college. Without the excellent education I received there, I doubt I would have been successful in my higher education experiences. The first day at my high school all students were asked where they planned to attend college; there was no other option. My friends in public school were asked “what are your plans” after high school. The seed that is planted in a young mind is so important to his or her future success.

Q. Was there someone along the way that inspired you or believed in you more than you believed in yourself? How important was it to have a mentor along the way?

A. My mother, who was an educator. She always emphasized the importance of education and set an example for me by obtaining her doctorate after the age of 40. She made me believe I could accomplish anything I was willing to work hard to achieve.

Q. What advice would you share with teenagers about choosing a STEM related or government service career?

A. You cannot go wrong choosing a career in STEM. It is the wave of the future.  Government service is a great career path. You will be provided opportunities and challenges early in your career that your peers in private industry will only dream about.