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Guard members recognized for diversity by NAACP

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Members of the National Guard who help promote and energize diversity programs among Soldiers, Airmen and civilians were given special honors on July 16 by the NAACP during the organization's annual national convention.

During an Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Awards luncheon in Orlando, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recognized military members and civilians for their contributions to equal opportunity, human relations and America's veterans.

The luncheon was also a chance for Department of Defense (DoD) leaders to highlight the importance of diversity among the men and women - in and out of uniform - who make up the agency and military services.

"Even though we have an all-volunteer force, the nation's fighting force today is the best it has ever been," DoD Director of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Clarence Johnson told the attendees at the NAACP luncheon. "A high-quality force has made it strong...but a high-quality, diverse force has made it stronger."

Johnson said that as of May 2013, about 30 percent of the U.S. military's active duty force is comprised of minorities, and about 15 percent is comprised of females.

He said that while the DoD continues to look for more opportunities to reflect the "diversity of America" in its organization - especially in its senior ranks and civilian corps - the recognition by "the premier civil rights organization in the world" was a testament to the DoD's efforts.

"We appreciate this public venue that recognizes the outstanding contributions of our men and women that work every day to broaden diversity and inclusion, and ensure equal opportunity within the force," Johnson added.

Guest speaker Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III, director of the Air National Guard, said diversity is a military necessity and will make the National Guard and the military stronger.

"In the National Guard and the United States military we have adopted many of the principles the NAACP holds dear in order to build a more diverse, and therefore stronger workforce," he said.

Clarke noted that about 26 percent of the National Guard is comprised of minorities and 16 percent is comprised of females.

"Our rapidly changing operational environment demands a broad range of talent, experience and perspectives for mission success," he said. "...Leaders at all levels in every organization must be committed to building a diverse force that reflects the best of our nation, and must foster an environment that promotes trust, mutual respect and incorporates different backgrounds and perspectives."

Recipient of the NAACP Meritorious Service Award, Col. Ondra Berry, called his award "a recognition that the Guard is doing this right and we're leading the way" in issues of diversity.

Berry, a member of the Air National Guard, currently serves as special Advisor to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on issues of diversity, leadership and equal opportunity.

"To be able to represent the National Guard, as a person who believes strongly in making sure we have an environment that is conducive for all of our Airmen and civilians, makes me proud," Berry said during the luncheon. "...It is important to me to ensure that I am able to take (Chief of the National Guard Bureau) Gen. Grass' vision and direction forward of making sure diversity is a priority for all of our members in the entire National Guard."

Chief of Diversity and Special Emphasis Programs for the National Guard Bureau Phyllis Brantley was also honored during the program; she was presented with the Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award by Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors Roslyn Brock.

Upon accepting the award, Brantley reconfirmed the importance of mentoring by senior leaders within the National Guard Bureau diversity program, and expressed appreciation to Gen. Grass and others who have supported the program.

"I thank our senior leadership for the wonderful support we've received," Brantley said of National Guard Bureau's commitment to promoting diversity.

Also receiving recognition during the luncheon were the recipients of the Roy Wilkins Renowned Service Awards: Maj. Nathlon Jackson (Army National Guard); Lt. Col. Anderson Neal Jr. (Air National Guard); Charles Pimple (U.S. Army); Bonnie Pyett (U.S. Navy); First Sergeant Edward Parson (U.S. Marine Corps); Tech. Sgt. Candice Compton (U.S. Air Force); Gail Jackson (U.S. Coast Guard); and Michael Crosby (Defense Agencies). U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alywn Cashe was posthumously awarded the Jesse Brown Distinguished Leadership Award.

Another Guardsmen honored was a Pennsylvania military officer who served in the state's civil-war era militia; each table at the luncheon held a centerpiece dedicated to Maj. Octavius V. Catto, who was killed while on duty in Philadelphia in 1871 defending African-Americans at a polling location.