This article spotlights the accomplishments of six decorated flag or general officers in the U.S. military, now retired. They all earned engineering degrees. Two are pilots, and all reached the highest levels of military achievement. They commanded units that ranged from 3,000 to 140,000 personnel and oversaw manpower and equipment with budgets in the tens of billions of dollars.
Despite the never-ending pressure and responsibilities of their positions, they each found time to give back to their community through the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). They all have been strong supporters of the St. Louis Gateway NSBE Jr. Chapter, based at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley in Ferguson for the past 20 years.
The Gateway NSBE Jr. Chapter’s first military partnership was with Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard, chief of engineers and commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis to be the guest speaker at the chapter’s Fourth Annual Scholars Reception in 1999. Gen. Ballard’s good friend, the late Maj. Gen. Ernest James (“Ernie”) Harrell, then president of the Board of Public Services for the City of St. Louis, co-chaired the event and was instrumental in making the connection.
During Gen. Harrell’s four-year term on the board, serving under St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, he raised funds for NSBE’s scholarship program, mentored chapter members and increased participation of minority- and woman-owned businesses in St. Louis. Gen. Harrell, formerly commanding general of Europe Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, retired from the Army in 2004 and gave an inspirational talk to area students that year at Gateway NSBE Jr.’s Annual Scholarship Reception.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Darren Wayne McDew was Gateway NSBE’s 2014 Scholarship Reception speaker. Since then, he has visited with St. Louis youth and engineers at three NSBE Annual Conventions, has spoken at the NSBE “A Walk for Education” at SLCC-Florissant Valley and facilitated the appearance of Brig. Gen. C. David Turner as Gateway NSBE’s 2016 Scholars Reception speaker. Gen. McDew retired from the Air Force in October 2018, having served as the commander of United States Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base; as commander of Air Mobility Command; and as commander of the 18th Air Force, among other high leadership posts.
Adm. Michelle Janine Howard, the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, has played an active role at several NSBE Annual Conventions. The retired officer last served as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe while concurrently serving as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa and commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples. She previously served as the 38th vice chief of Naval Operations. She assumed her last Navy assignment in June 2016 and was elected to the Board of Directors of IBM this past February. During a recent visit to St. Louis to speak at the Annual Navy Ball, she met with a group of students, including NSBE members, at the St. Louis Science Center to discuss the importance of a STEM education.
Lt. Gen. Stayce D. Harris is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who last served as the inspector general of the Air Force. Gen. Harris has attended several NSBE Annual Conventions, most recently as a main speaker at the 2016 convention in Boston, where she spoke to 4,000 engineering students and engineers and interacted with the St. Louis NSBE contingent.
Gen. Harris previously served as the assistant vice chief of staff and director, Air Staff, Headquarters, United States Air Force. Her promotion to lieutenant general was a first for African-American females, as she became the first to hold the three-star rank in the U.S. Air Force. In addition, she is the first Air Force reservist to be promoted to the three-star rank other than the commander, Air Force Reserve Command. Before her assignment as assistant vice chief of staff, Gen. Harris was commander, 22nd Air Force.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, a St. Louis native, was the Gateway NSBE Jr. 2016 Scholars Reception speaker. Gen. Turner is a mentor and an inspiration to youth in St. Louis and across the country. He often greets young people, quizzes them on their goals then tries to connect them with adults who may be able to help them achieve those goals. Still active with NSBE, he recently attended the 2019 Annual Convention in Detroit.
Now retired, Gen. Turner most recently commanded the South Pacific Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He consults for several engineering and construction companies and sits on several corporate boards.
Ronald Moore is a member of NSBE St. Louis Professionals.