While growing up in Laurinburg, James Monroe had no idea that accomplishments, travel and numerous accolades would color the canvas of his life.
“When I was a senior in college, I had three goals: I wanted to be an electrical engineer, I wanted to live in a mobile home, and I wanted to be a bachelor for the rest of my life, traveling around the country building electrical grids,” he said. “The military was not one of those goals.”
He did not achieve those senior-year dreams, but Monroe is pretty content with the road that hard work, determination, and motivation have paved for him.
Monroe, a retired U.S. Army Major General with 35 years of service, will deliver the keynote address at the 21st Annual Black History Banquet on Saturday. The program is sponsored by Nazareth, Unionville, Oak Hill, and Spring Branch Baptist churches.
It will be held at the Highlands at 17160 Plant Road, beginning at 6 pm. Tickets are $15 each.
A 1963 graduate of West Virginia State University, Monroe earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and was a Distinguished Military Graduate. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.
While the military was not on his horizon in college, Monroe entered the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. His plan was to stay in the Army two years, then get out. That didn’t happen.
“Two years became four, four years became six,” Monroe said. “Every time I was thinking of getting out, another great opportunity came up for me to be something special for someone.”
Monroe says that today’s military is not the level playing field that many people think, neither was the service of the early 1960s. Still, he says the military provides an opportunity to excel for those who apply themselves. The early 1960s offered many prospects for African-Americans searching for their niche in society. The challenge, Monroe said, was negotiating the rules of various organizations.
In some situations, Monroe said black Americans didn’t know the rules, so they didn’t know the protocol.
“The military had a set of rules that applied to everybody,” Monroe said, “no matter what color you were, no matter whom your parents were, or how much money you had. If you wanted to follow the rules, you could be whatever you wanted to be.”
Monroe earned a Master’s Degree in Political Science with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cincinnati in 1973. After completing a one-year Arabic language course, Monroe used those skills working various Middle East issues during a five year period.
Monroe completed the Strategies in Government Program at Harvard University, and he was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from West Virginia State University.
Inspiration that can change the course of a person’s life comes from many directions. For Monroe, farming encouraged him to see what other opportunities the world had to offer.
“Picking cotton was an honorable thing, and it was a motivator. Growing up in Laurinburg inspired me to seek more than I had at the time,” he said, “and that motivation has stayed with me.”
During his 35 years of service, Monroe was Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics and Deputy for Host Nation Support, U.S. Army Central Command during Operation Desert Storm. He was the U.S. Army’s chief logistic planner from the beginning to the end of that conflict. While in this position, he took a temporary assignment as Deputy Commanding General and later Commanding General, U.S. Army Materiel Command Logistics Support Group in Florida during Hurricane Andrew. Because of his service, Dade County, Florida, honored him with a James Monroe Day.
In 1995, he assumed command of the US Army Industrial Operations Command (IOC) at Rock Island, Illinois, according to the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps website. This newly established command encompassed the Army’s arsenals, depots, plants, and prepositioned stocks and contained 80 percent of the Army’s industrial base with assets totaling more than $27 billion.
Under his leadership, the IOC matured into a worldwide command linking more than 23,000 military and civilian personnel and 11,000 contractor personnel located in 25 states and 8 overseas locations to the United States defense industry. Monroe was inducted into the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 2002.
Although the world has changed since Monroe graduated from high school and college, he said young people today face opportunities that differ from the ones present in the 1950s and 1960s.
These different opportunities have caused many people to forget the lessons their parents taught, and many parents are not teaching these lessons to their children, Monroe said.