Leaders in MHS look to inspire the next generation during Black History Month
Navy Capt. Marvin Jones, Army Brig. Gen. Scott Dingle and Air Force Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Allen discuss the importance of mentors in their lives and careers.
THe contributions of African-Americans to military medicine are many and ongoing. During Black History Month, three current African-American Military Health System senior leaders shared their stories with some common themes: decades of struggle, perseverance and above all, opportunities presented through service to the nation.
“My parents and grandparents were my greatest mentors growing up,” said Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Allen, director of Medical Operations and Research and chief of the Dental Corps in the Air Force Surgeon General’s office. While his parents didn’t finish high school, they instilled in him the importance of education and exposed him and his six siblings to enriching experiences. “Through my 31-year career, I have seen the importance of having multicultural mentors who enhanced my experiences.”
Allen grew up in an area of central Virginia where segregation had been widely enforced only a short time before he was born. His experience with racism early in life led him to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Howard University in Washington, D.C., both on the list of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), where he felt he would “get a fair shake” and have the chance to excel. Despite knowing his father in the 1940s and brother in the 1960s had experienced racism during their military service, Allen joined the Air Force in 1986.
“I’ll admit I joined to get student loans taken care of and save some money, then planned to get out after three years,” said Allen with a smile. “But once I was in, I saw things had gotten better in the field of race relations and felt good about my decision to come in. Now, I hope my service acts as an inspiration to others to accomplish their goals.”
Navy Capt. Marvin Jones, the commanding officer at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland, grew up on the south side of Chicago. As a second-grader, he remembers events surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that led to misgivings about the actions of police and troops sent in to quell the rioting after King’s murder. Yet he sensed these activities didn’t represent the whole picture of military service. He entered the Navy and credits people he met for helping him find success in what has become a 39-year military career.
“There have been many people of different backgrounds, including those who aren’t African-American, who mentored me and gave me the tools I needed to excel at this position,” said Jones.
He hopes other young African-Americans can benefit from similar opportunities in the military.
“Young people need to see that if they dream, they hope, they have aspirations, such as being a senior officer in the Navy, it can happen,” said Jones. “Young sailors need to be able to look up their chain of command and see someone who looks like them.”
Brig. Gen. Scott Dingle, Army Medicine’s deputy chief of staff for Operations, credited his mentors at Morgan State University in Baltimore, another HBCU, for helping him past rough spots in life.
“My professor of military science and my instructors at Morgan State said, ‘Don’t give up. Don’t quit, Scottie,’” said Dingle. “They didn’t give up on me. That investment got me through.”
He believes the recognition of Black History Month in February can shine a spotlight on the military as a beacon of diversity.
Dingle believes by telling his story, he can help recruit other minorities into the military. “As African-Americans, we have to go back to our communities, back to our HBCUs, and let more minorities know what’s possible,” he said. “We have to tell our story of African-Americans in the military and how anything can be achieved if someone puts their heart, their mind and their aspirations toward it.”