When asked, what is your dream job? The Commander of the South Pacific Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “I haven’t done it yet, my dream was to be a high school math teacher, so I’m still working on it.”
Brig. Gen. C. David Turner made the remark during the San Francisco District’s Black History Month event held at the Headquarters Building in San Francisco on Feb. 11.
Turner, the guest speaker for the event, expressed pride in being a Soldier and defending the freedoms provided to every American by the Constitution of the United States.
“I am an American Citizen and with that I have been given great opportunities,” said Turner. “Opportunities that if I was born someplace else, I probably never would have had.”
Turner honored the tremendous sacrifice and courage of civil rights leaders and trailblazers from Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and President Barack Obama. “Black History Month to me is important because it honors the struggles people went through to allow me and others this great opportunity,” said Turner.
Turner reflected on his family, military career and an early desire to teach while exploring the path our country has traveled over the last 50 years. He spoke about being born in St. Louis, Mo. before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and living in a period of U.S. history that spans the extremes of segregation to the election of a black president.
“I felt maybe the playing field wasn’t always even, but I didn’t let that cloud my vision or my focus,” said Turner when asked about discrimination in the military. “The limits are what you place on yourself, not who you are.”
Turner’s sister, Army Chaplain Cynthia Turner, also attended the event and spoke about her mother’s influence. Turner’s mother told her not to make excuses about her gender, race or income. Her mother advised, “Don’t make up excuses. You will always be female, you will always be black. If you are gonna do it, do it.”
Both Turners took their mother’s advice. Brig. Gen. Turner graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematical Sciences. He planned to serve three years in the Army and then teach high school math. Over twenty years later he is still in uniform, but pledges that “one day I am going to reach my goal” of teaching.
He stressed the importance of science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM, saying “for every one hundred U.S. college graduates, four percent will be STEM and of that four percent, only five percent will be African Americans.” Turner, who holds both math and engineering degrees, believes that everyone born in the United States has unlimited potential to succeed. He stresses race and cultural differences are not weaknesses, but instead a great strength. “Diversity is the key to accomplishing our goals, don’t let the way you view life skew your perceptions of someone’s potential.”
Dennis Tremethick, a district contract specialist, listened to Turner’s speech. A 23-year Army veteran whose wife also served and son is currently serving in Afghanistan was impressed with Turner’s military family.
Asked why he attended the event Tremethick said, “I’m interested in learning about different cultures, different backgrounds. My wife is Filipino and my son is from the Philippines, so diversity is pretty much a part of my life.”
During his military career Tremethick worked all over the world with different races and cultures saying, “The thing in the Army is, we are all green. We don’t worry about what a person’s color is we just worry about getting the job done.”