JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- During the Vietnam War era, a group of Army officers attending the Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, began to meet informally to share ideas on how to survive and succeed as part of an under-represented group: African American military officers.
Fifty years later, with racial discrimination still a part of American life, the legacy of those first Black officers lives on in a nonprofit mentoring organization that encompasses more than 1,300 members worldwide.
The ROCKS Inc. now has more than a dozen affiliated chapters, including the San Antonio (Alamo) Chapter at Joint Base San Antonio, which includes members from all branches of service, befitting San Antonio’s nickname of “Military City, USA.”
Brig. Gen. James S. Moore, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Installation Management Command, who volunteers as a senior mentor in the Alamo ROCKS Chapter, says the group’s mission is to provide and promote mentorship, coaching and networking.
“The ROCKS helps foster diversity in leadership and offers professional development and outreach opportunities,” Moore said. “These are vital in growing the military’s future leaders and maximizing talent.”
Lt. Col. Tamisha R. Norris, Chief of Information Operations for Army South Command, based at Fort Sam Houston, serves as president of the Alamo ROCKS chapter. With 19 years of Army service, she says mentorship is crucial in growing new talent.
“There’s a perception that military mentorship is only provided at the field grade level or below,” she said. “But in actuality, to become the chief of staff of the Army or the secretary of defense, you’re going to need mentorship and guidance from other senior leaders at the beginning of your military career.”
Norris said she joined the European Chapter of The ROCKS Inc. in 2003 while stationed in Mannheim, Germany. “It was very competitive to be selected as a platoon leader; everyone wanted their lieutenants to be successful. My mentor provided that one-on-one contact for me as I navigated various leadership challenges. We are still in touch to this day.”
The ROCKS gives members the opportunity to engage with senior leaders of the force, Norris said. “These general officers are very open and willing to share their experiences as well as introduce newcomers to other ROCKS members. They are invested in diversity. They are looking to have the hard conversations, and The ROCKS provides the safe place to have those conversations.”
Raising scholarship awareness
One of The ROCKS’ major goals is providing scholarships for students interested in military careers. The group hosts community events to raise awareness of scholarships among students, parents and educators.
A graduate of Florida State University who grew up all over the world as a military child, Norris said, “The ROCKS allows you to meet people and learn methods on how to be successful in life. With your ROCKS mentor, one can socialize and explore opportunities within a military career, whatever that career goal may be.”
“What I love is that you can be anything you want in the Army. You can be a scientist or a researcher, a doctor, or a nurse. You can fly planes, drive trucks, or cook for thousands. You can be an instructor, an administrator or a policy maker,” Norris said.
“The ROCKS is about reaching out to those young people and helping them make the best decisions to help set them up for success in the future,” she said.
Capt. LaDonna S. Tolbert, an Army nurse based at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, is the local chapter’s community service chair.
Originally from Nashville, Tolbert described her career path as convoluted.
“No one in my immediate family was in the military, although a deceased grandfather had served,” Tolbert said. “After high school, I wanted to go to college. College was the primary goal, and I had no knowledge of the educational opportunities that the military provided.”
After acquiring student loans from her studies at Tennessee State University and Austin Peay State University, Tolbert decided on a career in the Army Nurse Corps. She attended her first ROCKS meeting while stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“I was the only second lieutenant attending The ROCKS meeting there,” Tolbert said. “Lt. Col. Latonya Walker encouraged me to get involved in the chapter and served as my mentor. Many general officers are members or affiliates of the organization. They are eager to guide and support your career. They have insight on opportunities that you didn’t know existed.”
According to the group’s history online, The ROCKS was named after Gen. Roscoe “Rock” Cartwright, who along with his wife, was killed in a plane crash in December 1974. Cartwright had challenged ROCKS members to get to know each other, help mentor junior officers, and assist each other whenever possible. The Roscoe C. Cartwright Scholarship Fund was created in his honor and is administered by the national board of The ROCKS Inc.
Founded Dec. 31, 1996, the Alamo Chapter of The ROCKS Inc., is a recognized tax-exempt nonprofit veteran service organization, open to all civilians at levels GS-09 and above, senior ROTC and military academy cadets, officers and warrant officers ranked O1/WO1 and higher who are active duty, retired, Guard or Reserve military members in the San Antonio area. The Alamo chapter has approximately 70 members now and was honored nationally for its recruitment and retention efforts in 2020 – despite the pandemic.
Typically, members invite others to a meeting. “You go because of a friend, peer, supervisor or mentor invited you,” Norris said, adding with a laugh, “Sometimes the invitation is likened to a direct order, but after the event, you never feel that way. You are glad you attended and are quick to tell others who missed out.”
Moore says IMCOM’s involvement in the Alamo ROCKS chapter is a good example of the command’s service culture, an initiative that began in 2018 to train and reinforce engaged and caring leadership, and has since been interwoven into every aspect of IMCOM’s work on behalf of 97 installations worldwide.
“IMCOM’s service culture is focused on diversity, inclusion, and being part of something designed to benefit others,” Moore said.
Alamo ROCKS also represents the variety of commands housed at JBSA, he said. “This organization provides an opportunity for all tenant units to meet and work together across JBSA.”
For more information, search Facebook for “Alamo Chapter, The ROCKS Inc.” or visit www.rocksinc.org.