WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 3, 2012) -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said he was concerned with a trend he noticed over the past months that fewer African-American officers are being selected for major in the maneuvers, fires and effects or combat arms categories.

Speaking before the ROCKS, Inc., at their 8th biennial leadership and training conference March 30, at Fort Belvoir, Va., Odierno added the reason African-American officers were not being promoted was because fewer African-Americans and other minorities were entering combat arms. Those figures had been continuing to drop for the last 10 to 15 years, he said.

Odierno said he and Army Vice Chief Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III have been studying the problem and taking a hard look at it for some time.

"We think what is happening, if you look at the history of the Army, there's an advantage to being a combat arms officer," he said. "I think I would say today, eight of the 10 Army four-star generals are probably combat arms officers.

"I don't know what's causing it, but it's something that weighs heavily on me because I need African-American leaders at all ranks. It's critical to our moving forward and being successful," Odierno continued, adding that he and Austin would be commissioning a study to look at a variety of educational programs, from West Point, to the Reserve Officer Training Corps, Officer Candidate School and Junior ROTC.

"I think to be frank, one of our problems is I don't have enough white officers mentoring black officers," he told the audience of mostly African-American Soldiers, both enlisted and officers. "It doesn't matter what race you are, an officer is an officer is an officer, and what we need to know is why we're not meeting what we believe are proper numbers for our diverse Army."

Odierno reached out to the ROCKS asking for their help in mentoring: "What can the ROCKS do to increase the attraction of the Army to talented African-Americans and their influencers?" he asked.

"I pose these questions to you," he said. "What should Army leadership be doing to convince influences to guide the most talented African-Americans toward service in our Army? And, why are certain branches of the Army more or less attractive to African-Americans and other minorities? What can I do to change that?"

Odierno also praised the ROCKS for their resourcefulness, officership, commitment, knowledge and scholarship which are, he said, strong complements to Army values.

"I commend the ROCKS for all you've done to promote diversity and excellence in the officer and noncommissioned officer ranks," he said. "There is an express need for diversity in the light of challenges facing our nation. Our goal is to have every Soldier see themselves reflected at every level of leadership in the Army by recruiting, retaining and promoting the best this diverse nation has to offer."