A Few Good White Men

When 60 Minutes first visited Marine Corps Headquarters in 1993, there seemed to be little chance for advancement up the ranks for non-whites. Today, the statistics show improvement. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports for a "Classic" segment of 60 Minutes II.

The Marine Corp: 1993

"If I was blond-haired and blue-eyed and 6'1' and a closet homosexual, I'd be in the air cockpit of a CH-46 aircraft right now," says Captain Marcus Hartman. He used to be a CH-46 Marine helicopter pilot. Now he's a corporate lawyer. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Lesley Stahl goes inside the Marine Corps to find out why he changed careers.

"After approximately 670 hours of military flight timeÂ…the first individual in my command said, 'Captain Hartman is not competent to fly in the cockpit.' When I challenged that individual a few days later, he resorted to screaming at me and calling me 'boy' in front of a wardroom full of officers," says Hartman.

Hartman failed two flight tests, both administered by the same white captain who called him 'boy.' Then he was told he couldn't fly again. Hartman thinks that's business as usual in the Marine Corps, where only two percent of the pilots are black.

Captain Gerald Gaskins agrees with him. "In my opinion, yes, it is racism. It's institutionalized racism," says Gaskins. "There's no doubt in my mind that it's racism."

Captain Gaskins said that even though one of his superior officers urged him not to talk to 60 Minutes II. He recently learned that he's being promoted to the rank of major. But he did some research and found out that most black captains don't get promoted to major while most white captains do, courtesy, he says, of an "old-boy network."

"I think people want to promote their own kind, and the more you look like your leadership, the better off you do in this system," Gaskins continues.

Gaskins says he knows a white officer who got promoted who can barely write a complete sentence. And, he says, he really got fed up when he saw these statistics: About 90 percent of captains are white. Farther up the chain of command, the percentage of whites goes up. Almost 97 percent of colonels are white. All but one general is white.

"Just me, just one," says General GeorgeWalls. "I believe that when I leave, there will be nobody else. But I am very, very confident that the Marine Corps will have more minority general officers soon. The system works. It really does work."

It's almost unheard of for marines, especially officers, to complain to the media about the Corps. Still, many have come forward.

In the case of Lt. Euseekers Williams, the Corps wouldn't let him go to flight school, so he left the Marines to become a pilot in the Navy. "You cannot be as good as your white counterparts; you have to be better," says Williams.

Marins get promoted based on fitness reports, which reflect the commanding officer's assessment of each Marine's physical condition. Everything else, they say, is academic.

60 Minutes II came to Marine Corps Headquarters to find out why they consistently kick out a greater percentage of minorities than whites. At first, we were told it's because of lower scores on Scholastic Aptitude Tests. In other words, they were saying that the minority officers just aren't as smart, at least academically, as the whites.

"I think once somebody else realizes what they said, you might not get the same comment when you go back," says Major Michael Lundy.

He was right; we didn't. Two months later, we got a different explanation when we were invited back to headquarters to speak to the commandant, General Carl Mundy Jr. He said that test scores were just a small part of the problem.

"It has to do with performance because that's what we judge promotion on," says General Carl Mundy Jr.

General Mundy said that in the Marine training schools, whites outperform minorities in just about every category.

"In the military skills, we find that the minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities," says Mundy. "They don't swim as well. And when you give them a compass and send them across the terrain at night in a land navigation exercise, they don't do as well at that sort of thing."

General Mundy insists that the Marine Corps wants to increase the number of minority officers and is searching hard for college graduates who are officer material.

In the meantime, minority officers already in the Corps continue to be forced out. This summer, after seven years in the service, Captain Hartman was told to pack up and leave. The Marine Corps says he didn't have what it takes to be an officer. Hartman says it's because he's not white.

"I was the only one. I was the only black," says Hartman. "I'm going to Harvard Law School. I got into Harvard Law School. And interestingly enough, when I was at Headquarters Marine Corps, I spoke with General Crulack, and General Crulack said, 'You know, captain, perhaps there is a problem when it's easier to get into Harvard Law School than it is to stay in the Marine Corps'."

The Marine Corps Today

Since 60 Minutes II left Marine Corps Headquarters, Gaskins has gone from captain, to major, to lieutenant colonel. He now says minority officers have a real chance to succeed in the Corps.

As for Marcus Hartman, he graduated from Harvard Law School, and is currently practicing corporate law. But it doesn't end there. In 1994, Hartman was recruited into the Reserves, and is now Marine Reservist Major Marcus Hartman.

In order to fly, Lt. Euseekers Williams had to leave the Marine Corps and join the Navy. He ultimately returned to the Marines as a pilot and was promoted to major. Today, Williams manages equal-oppotunity issues for both the Navy and the Marines.

It is improving. Back in 1993, about 90 percent of all captains were white. Today, that figure is down to 87 percent. And as you continue up the chain of command, the percentage of white officers has decreased as well. There are five minority generals on active duty in the Marine Corps: three black and two Hispanic.