Some Need Not Apply

Edited on 3/7/08

On February 16, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead awarded Cmdr. Richard Bryant Sr., commanding officer of fast attack sub USS Miami (SSN 755), with a prestigious annual engineering award.

Bryant was named Black Engineer of the Year for 2008.

Or was he? We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Such awards are an anachronism. Who knew the services (well, at least the Navy) still are sponsoring race- specific awards? We were surprised.

Bryant probably is a top engineer without caveat, but he has been singled out as the top black engineer and not the top engineer. Women would balk if given an award for best female engineer (I would hope). Call us radical, but though this is reported honor, is it not just the opposite on several levels to this accomplished engineer and nuclear submarine commander?

So why is the Navy involved? Our guess is recruiting. The Navy’s release noted Roughead saying, “Awards such as these showcase the talents and diversity in today’s Navy.” He stated, “It recognizes us as an organization that values diversity, that puts a premium on diversity, but it also shows the excellence that exists within the Navy. I believe it just speaks volumes about who we are and what we stand for.” While such awards may showcase talent and diversity within an organization, they are not necessarily a barometer of any organization’s values with regard to issues such as race, gender and beyond.

Here’s where it gets even weirder. The Navy’s release says Bryant was the 2008 Black Engineer of the Year; the clear implication is that this is a Navy award. Well, it seems the award may be through a larger organization that includes corporate sponsors like Lockheed Martin. According to the BEY Web site the actual Black Engineer of Year for 2008 is Reginald Van Lee of Booz Allen Hamilton. According to an earlier Navy release, Bryant was listed as a “special recognition winner,” along with a total of 20 or so others recognized in one form or another. Is this because the Navy itself cannot sponsor race-based awards, so it conducts its awards laundering through a third party?

Get this: The Navy assured us that there is a Hispanic Engineer of the Year award too. That’s great. We were worried. … It is nothing short of stunning that this type of racial pigeonholing exists, which in many ways turns talented, deserving leaders into fodder for the Navy’s recruiting or PR machines.

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