The downward trend of African-American officers in the branches that have the best track record of producing our Army’s most senior leaders is alarming, bewildering and disappointing. We revel in the success of Gens. Colin L. Powell, Lloyd J. Austin III and Vincent K. Brooks. How do we build and sustain the bench behind them?The bench is bare. Black battalion and brigade commanders are scarce in our fighting divisions—the typical gateway jobs to be competitive for general officer promotion. Our Army works best when we draw talent from a larger pool. We must increase African-American representation in the Army, especially in the combat arms branches of infantry, armor and field artillery.The initial solution is found in the African-American community. Our ideas are designed to turn energy into action, resulting in an increased number of black male combat arms officers. This is not a discussion about standards. The current standards are fair and achievable by all. (Note: Presently, many combat arms officer positions are closed to women.)Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon; it has been a discussion topic for more than 20 years. We call it a phenomenon because Army readiness—which is the bottom line in measuring the impact of trends in the Army—has not suffered because of a lack of African-American men in the combat arms officer ranks. The Army has fought and won in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for the last 14 years.In Tom Vanden Brook’s 2014 USA Today article, “Army Commanders: White Men Lead a Diverse Force,” he states, “Command of the Army’s main combat units—its pipeline to top leadership—is virtually devoid of black officers, according to interviews, documents and data obtained by USA TODAY.” He goes on to quote Col. Irving Smith, director of sociology at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: “In order to maintain their trust and confidence, the people of America need to know that the Army is not only effective but representative of them.”During a question-and-answer session at the 2014 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, when asked about the low percentage of senior black leaders in combat arms, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno remarked: “That has been something I have been looking at for a while. I think we have been working on that. That is a long-term problem. You have to look at that at the commissioning source.“We have worked hard at both the United States Military Academy and ROTC in how we can improve interest in the combat arms. We have made some small progress, but we have a lot more progress to make.”Clearly, this is a concern of our Army’s most senior leaders.What’s Being Done?Odierno and Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh signaled commitment for a more diverse officer corps in their 2014 Action Plan to Address Disparate Trends in Officer Talent Management.The plan includes steps to recruit, monitor and mentor black officers. It appears, however, that the energy from the department level has yet to impact the outcomes, resulting in fewer African-American males being accessed into the combat arms. It is easy to lay this diversity problem at the feet of E-ring leaders, field commanders and Pentagon personnel gurus.The Army cannot solve these disparate trends itself. Organizations outside the Army should join the fight to identify, recruit and retain African-American officers in the combat arms branches. The African-American community needs to become much more involved in encouraging young men to seek commissions in the combat arms.Groups like The ROCKS Inc., a mentorship organization for Army officers and civilian leaders, can complement the Army’s efforts. Generations of black officers and their spouses have found a professional and social network with The ROCKS. Its membership includes battle-proven pioneers such as retired Gen. Larry R. Ellis and 2007 AUSA George Catlett Marshall Medal awardee retired Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton. The ROCKS is nurturing future generals from the ground up and has positioned itself as an essential leader in providing developmental guidance to Army officers and ROTC cadets.Powell cites the group as a key contributor to his success. In My American Journey, he recounts his experience during a Pentagon assignment in the early 1970s. “The spirit of The ROCKS appealed to me. They looked out for me along the way and, in turn, I have tried to spot young black military talent and help these officers realize their potential. Blacks have probably looked after each other better in the military than in almost any other American institution, and I think we offer a model to the rest of the black community.”The ROCKS sponsors a number of mentoring programs at military installations and colleges. These programs serve the interests of members, associates, sponsors, future officers and civic outreach. The organization is well-positioned to affect how we identify, recruit and retain African-American males in the combat arms. The ROCKS also has reached out to ROTC programs at 27 traditional historically black colleges and universities, where 32 percent of black officers are commissioned.Strategic Approach NeededIt is time to develop a strategic approach to the problem, continue the dialogue and most importantly, do something about it.The strategic approach includes focusing on three levels. First, identify qualified candidates early on to provide a robust pool of potential candidates. Next, retain the quality combat arms officers already in the ranks. Finally, focus on the senior leaders, who are the ones providing most of the mentoring, to ensure the cycle continues.- Identify qualified candidates. We bust the myths about Army life—danger and discrimination—and inform family, faith, and civic and community leaders with information to encourage young men to seek military careers. We must promote the pride in leading America’s soldiers.- Recruit. Educate the black community about the U.S. Military Academy and ROTC scholarship programs. Develop advertising and marketing programs to attract African-American males to the combat arms. Our polished, high-performing black male officers should be sent to communities to share their stories of success with K-12 youth. This duty should be supported by local commands and included in officer performance reviews.- Retain. Once they are accessed into the combat arms, systemically monitor and track soldiers’ performance at Headquarters, Department of the Army, and local commands. Use the Army Career Tracker, LinkedIn and RallyPoint to maintain mentorship communication and career progression. Encourage participation in professional organizations like The ROCKS, Toastmasters and civic leadership programs. Keep them involved. Encourage these soldiers to give back and be part of nurturing the group following them.Coach all senior leaders to ensure they assign the best-qualified leaders to the best company command and key development jobs; use metrics to enforce. Prioritize as equally important as sexual assault and equal opportunity.The pool of candidates to feed the pipeline for Army officers will only swell if the Army and African-American community collaboratively reach black male youth, nurture current officers and repeat the cycle.The Army and communities must take action to grow the population of African-American males in the combat arms. Solutions exist; let’s implement them.