WPAOG Podcast

EP63 Leaving a Lasting Legacy at West Point with Carl Owens ‘78 and Kafi Joseph ‘03

Episode Summary

This episode features an interview with Carl Owens ‘78, and Kafi Joseph ‘03. In this episode, Carl and Kafi talk about the changes in diversity overtime at the academy, the importance of cultivating community through clubs and programs, and the strong legacies they left behind at West Point.

Episode Notes

This episode features an interview with Carl Owens ‘78, and Kafi Joseph ‘03.

Carl has over 30 years of experience as a proven Army leader with extensive management and hands-on experience gained by serving in numerous critical acquisition positions that provided direct support to the Warfighters. 

Kafi is currently the Chief of Staff for Metro DC at Accenture. Previously, she led sports, military, manufacturing, and strategy teams in four different countries. She’s an Army veteran, certified project management professional, an M.B.A. graduate from Georgetown University and an M.S. graduate in systems engineering from George Washington University.

In this episode, Carl and Kafi talk about the changes in diversity overtime at the academy, the importance of cultivating community through clubs and programs, and the strong legacies they left behind at West Point.


Episode Timestamps

(02:12) Backgrounds and introductions

(05:47) Experiences attending West Point

(22:29) Diversity over time at the academy

(30:15) Community through programs and clubs 

(37:11) Leaving a lasting legacy at West Point

(48:51) Last thoughts and parting advice



Carl Owens’ LinkedIn

Kafi Joseph’s LinkedIn

MaShon Wilson’s LinkedIn

West Point Association of Graduates

Episode Transcription

Narrator: Hello, and welcome to the WPAOG Podcast. This episode features an interview with Carl Owens, West Point class of 1978, and Kafi Joseph, West Point class of 2003. 

Carl has over 30 years of experience as a proven army leader with extensive management and hands-on experience gained by serving in numerous critical acquisition positions that provided direct support to the Warfighters. He has served as a leader of diverse groups of functional civilian, military, and contractor personnel. 

Kafi is currently the Chief of Staff for Metro DC at Accenture. Previously, she led sports, military, manufacturing, and strategy teams in four different countries. She's an Army veteran, certified project management professional, an MBA graduate from Georgetown University, and an MS graduate in systems engineering from George Washington University.

In this episode, Carl and Kafi talk about the changes in diversity over time at the academy, the importance of cultivating community through clubs and programs, and the strong legacies they left behind at West Point. 

Now, please enjoy this interview between Carl Owens, West Point class of 1978, Kafi Joseph, West Point class of 2003, and your host MaShon Wilson, Global Business Strategy and Operations Lead for Go-to-Market at Google, and West Point grad, class of 2011.

[00:01:37] MaShon Wilson: Good afternoon. We're here on the West Point AOG Podcast. I'm your host today, MaShon Wilson. I'm a 2011 grad. I'm privileged here to have two guests join me. One, Mr. Carl Owens. He's a class of 1978. And then also Ms. Kafi Joseph, class 2003. 

What we'll do here today is we're gonna discuss a couple interesting topics. One specifically focusing on Do More Together and their impact as an organization, but also looking at the importance of racial equity and inclusion from where the academy was in the seventies to where we are now and kind of how things have changed. And so my two guests here, they'll talk a little bit about their backgrounds, provide a little more insight as to their journey at the academy and in the military.

And then we'll kind of dive into some interesting topics from there. And so without further delay, let me turn it over. Mr. Carl Owens give a brief introduction about himself, uh, kind of where he is coming from, his background and kind of his influence at the 

[00:02:33] Carl Owens: academy. My name is Carl Owens. I'm a retired colonel. I'm originally from Birmingham, Alabama. My father was an E six in the Air Force, and my mother was a domestic worker who eventually became a nurse. I grew up during the Civil Rights movement primarily. My entry to the academy was in the summer of 1974, and my experiences that I brought to the academy were basically influenced by growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, primarily.

Uh, my grandparents were the grandchildren of slaves. My, uh, influence was primarily based. On their work ethic and the impact of watching segregation as I grew up and understanding the transition to where we are now in an environment that's significantly different from when I entered the academy. 

[00:03:36] Kafi Joseph: Hi there. I'm Kafi Joseph. I am a 2003 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. I am originally from San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. So I'm a first generation immigrant and uh, when we moved and immigrated to the US I grew up, um, in Prince George's County, Maryland. So first gen immigrant was raised primarily by my mother, obviously know both my parents, and then later on when my mother got married, She was married to a retired Navy seal.

So a little bit of that influence, um, in the beginning parts of my military career. I did five years on active duty, um, in the Army as a military police officer, and then transitioned into the National Guard. Served for another four years while working in consulting. I've served in a variety of industries, so transitioned first into consulting.

Then I worked in logistics overseas in Dubai. Came back to the us, did my master's, my first master's at George Washington University in systems engineering. Did, um, my second at Georgetown, got my M B A from there, all of those while working. And then I also worked in manufacturing as a director of program management for a company that engineered engines for navy ships and power plants.

And then, uh, I'm now back in consulting at Accenture. More so on the people side. Um, I have a new role. So I worked in inclusion and diversity, standing up our client facing inclusion diversity practice. I helped to stand up our CEO advisory practice. And then I have just recently transitioned. I'm the metro DC market, lead and chief of staff for our office managing director for Washington dc So that's our region spanning from Baltimore all the way down to Richmond for Accenture.

Very robust 

[00:05:24] MaShon Wilson: career. Quick background, myself, uh, again, Mayhaw wasn't class 2011, originally in native San Francisco Bay area before I came to the Academy of Study. Econ with a minor engineering. Spent some time in the one 73rd, left as a captain to get my MBA at Duke. Uh, spent a couple years in management consultant at Parton and then pivoted to technology where I've worked at Apple and currently work in strategy operations at Google.

And so with kind of where we are now, I'd like to start by focusing on. The climates in which we came to the academy and how that kind of shaped our experience. And so, Mr. I know you mentioned quickly that you know, you were kind of proud of the civil rights era, and so can you talk about how that influenced your academy experience?

Versus Kafi, you coming in the midst of the global war on terror. 

[00:06:11] Carl Owens: So to put it in perspective, I graduated from high school in 1974 until I went to a high school in 1970. I grown up in all segregated environment, with the exception of my dad's tour in Japan, where uh, my mom and I traveled to Japan when I was 18 months old on a 30 day.

Cruise ship and it was my mom's first time away from Alabama. And throughout that experience, she was always remembering about that trip. You know, years later she would always talk about having traveled to Japan and the four years she spent in Japan and my parents stayed in touch with a lot of friends in that that environment was integrated.

We lived in apartment complex. And that was right after, uh, around 1950s after Truman had integrated the military and my father was actually drafted into a segregated army. But shortly after he got to Korea for his combat tour, they integrated the service. So you can see my background was having parents who had grown up in a segregated environment, who had learned and, and had those experience of being an integrated environment.

But we returned back to Alabama in the 1960s and was thrust back into that, uh, segregated environment. And, and throughout that experience, my parents always influenced us to treat people the way we wanted to be treated. And the golden Rule was primarily the guiding point for my life and my experiences that transitioned to when I got to West Point.

So West Point was my first time away from home since my travels to Japan. That was almost 20 years prior. It was part an experience being at West Point. Everybody knows how beast is. When you get the beast that first day you get all your bags and they throw you in a room like all, all new cadets. I was experiencing the anxiety of not only being in a, uh, away from home, but being.

Thrust into West Point and all its, uh, beast Barracks, traditions. My parents told me when I left, it was my choice to go to West Point, and if I chose to do otherwise, then they still love me. About two weeks into my experience at West Point, I became homesick and fortunately enough for me, the first black graduate from the state of Alabama.

Lived in my neighborhood was class of 75. A guy named James Ben. And James. Ben was a beast company commander during that timeframe. And it just so happened my squad leader was a good friend of James and I told my squad leader at the end of that second week that I was thinking about going home and he offered me the opportunity to talk to James because he knew what we were both from Birmingham.

James came to see me, we talked and he said, which is unusual. He said, you know what, if I gave you the opportunity to talk to your dad about whether or not you wanna stay at the academy or not, and I said, that would be great. I talked to my dad. Uh, we came to the conclusion that, you know, I was just homesick and that I really wanted to be at the academy.

And that was the last time I had any doubt as to whether or not I wanted to be a cadet. Here it is almost 45 years later, and if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it all over again. Impactful 

[00:09:58] Kafi Joseph: story. Yeah. Carl, I was laughing a little bit, um, at a couple of contrasts for Be Baric and for our parents. So before I jump into it, as I mentioned, my mom's a first gen immigrant when I said that I wanted to go to West.

Point. She was like, I am not signing that. I want no parts of the military. I don't understand why you wanna do this. I was 17 when I entering the academy. She's like, I'm not signing this. It's not happening. And my grandfather back in Trinidad, although he did not travel a lot, was very well read. He had this library, he had all these magazines that he would get shipped to his sky mailbox.

He, you know, knew all the things before, you know, we really even had access to the internet and all of that. He just, Red and red and red. And he talked to my mother and was like, Beverly, you immigrated, you uprooted your life. You said that you wanted to go here so your daughter could have the best education, the best opportunity.

This is that you better sign those papers. So really interesting. So that piece, and then you mentioned barracks, uh, you know, I don't know. It's probably like 10 seconds for y'all, Carl. But you get that 90 seconds to say goodbye to your parents. My mom in that moment was like, I wish I had raised you to be so independent.

Cause I only took 10 seconds. I was like, alright, bye. I'm out and grabbed my bag and walked across the field to the other side of the stadium. 

[00:11:16] Carl Owens: I hate to be the old grad, but in our case, We didn't get 90 seconds. The parents weren't even allowed in the area. When I was a kid cadet. That started probably about 10 years after I graduated or so, cuz I remember the first time I saw a picture of folks sitting in the auditorium talking to their parents.

For us. The minute you got off that bus from New York or wherever you came, there was that man, the red sash. And that was, that was it. Things changed, don't they? 

[00:11:47] Kafi Joseph: They do. And they had the auditorium. We had the stadium. I, yeah, I had the 

[00:11:52] MaShon Wilson: auditorium. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I said my goodbyes in California. I was like, we're just gonna go to college.

I'll see y'all, you know, pre parent weekend or whatever. It's good. 

[00:12:00] Kafi Joseph: Yeah, I mean, we, we lived in Maryland, so it was an easy drive up for us. So I actually also, uh, went with my high school best friend and, um, he showed up with a grocery bag with his, his bag. I had like a duff, a little shoulder bag of stuff.

I started giving my mom stuff. I was like, please mail this to me later. I don't need any of this. If that's all Collie has. So, 

[00:12:23] Carl Owens: The transition for me was so great because, uh, growing up in Birmingham, uh, I could walk and pass the jail that Martin Luther King was, was, uh, jailed in. I can remember as a kid watching the news and sing all the places that we were frequenting where riots were taking place.

I can remember the kids exiting, uh, cuz I was about third grade in 1965 when we were getting ready for the, uh, voting Rights Act and Birmingham was really hot at that time. All of those things, uh, I can remember pretty vividly and most salient was the fact that one of my classmates lost her first cousin in the bombing of the, uh, 16th Street Baptist Church.

That was pretty impactful for our community because those four girls had extended relationships and their families had extended relationships in the, in the community. They were parents who were teachers. Like I said, we had students who lost loved ones. It was pretty impactful. And to think 10 years later, I'm sitting at West Point, uh, a premier institute in America, having left.

Such a troubled, uh, segregated environment. So there is progress and I'm a product of that progress. 

[00:13:46] Kafi Joseph: And we're a product of your progress, sir. Absolutely. 

[00:13:50] MaShon Wilson: Yeah. Yeah. I think there's a lot of commonalities between our experiences, but also a lot of stark differences. Kafi, could you share kind of your experience in coming to the academy, a pre nine 11 era, and what does that look like and I guess how that changed while you were at 

[00:14:05] Kafi Joseph: the academy?

Yeah, absolutely. So I graduated from high school and it sounds so long, a lot far away from me, sometimes in 1999, and that's when I entered the academy, June 28th, 1999. And obviously this was a pre nine 11. Nine 11 happened my cow year. It happened, you know, a few weeks after our affirmation ceremony at the time that we entered the academy and we went through Buckner.

It was, you know, Gren was I think the biggest like mustard thing, conflict for people. Kosovo, you know, was the conflict, but we were really talking about hearing about getting to the army, training and training well and being prepared. And then nine 11 happens our cow year, our squad leaders in our first ds, you know, our heading out and graduating and going, you know, to war.

And then the. Shocking on invasion into Baghdad happened on spring break my first year. So it's like Cal year we affirm. It's like, all right, this is real. You know? How does this change? I remember our PL 1100 courses changing the tone and the tenor of everything was, you are going into a different army.

You're going into an army that's in conflict, that's at war. Uh, and so just pivoting for that and then if it wasn't really clear with nine 11 happening and being so close to us, right? Like watching that happen is. As we were like entering class as cadets to have Shah happened in the back. That invasion happened while we're firsties on spring break.

It was definitely clear if it wasn't readily apparent to us that that's the kind of army that. Um, we were gonna go into, so graduated, I was a military police officer. I went actually though not straight into combat, I went to Korea. Cause when we were picking our duty stations and thinking about, you know, what's happening for me that was the best places at MP to go.

Lots of training, lots of, um, engagement and. Apparently not the units that are gonna deploy right away because there's a mission at that time and places that we had to do and where we had to be posted, um, in Korea. So I went to Korea as a lieutenant. I came back stateside was actually in the old guard.

So again, I kept waiting for the real army. Everywhere I went, it was like Korea's not the real army. The old guard's, not the real army. And when I, I finally deployed, I deployed in June of 2007 to Baghdad and it was actually as an ima, so I deployed. Shuts protection, force protection, essentially looking at how we're protecting and securing the bases all across the theater of operations, um, in Iraq.

So it was very different and interesting for me, but, um, Coming into, you know, that space and that climate being deployed, being D Range was, uh, not what our buckner was like. When I hear about how cadets, now, maybe even you, Han, when you trained it, it was very much for the, the mission at hand. What we were training for were the types of missions that the Army had had before.

This was really interesting and keen to see. When I went back to the academy, I worked in admissions and. Heard about their summer training, like to see how quickly the academy pivoted and was ensuring that, you know, our cadets are actually training for what they're rolling into versus, um, you know, the past.

So it was rattling though, and it was scary and it was different. I imagine for, and I would ask you Mahan, for you at that point, you know, we had been at War in Conflict, the Gold War on Terror is happening for, you know, Years. And so you knew what you were rolling into, but for us it was very, very new and very, very different.

We knew it was a possibility, but it was never like apparent or imminent. And so it definitely was, uh, just surreal for us in that moment as cadets to realize like, yeah, we're leading America sends in daughters and we're going to be leading them, um, in conflict down range in some very difficult situations.


[00:17:57] Carl Owens: yeah, I, I find that the experience somewhat similar. To my experience, really, it was just the opposite. I, I grew up in the midst of the Vietnam War and at the end of, we had all the expectations that we were going to Vietnam. We thought at the end of that four years, the war might still be going on, even though it was winding down.

There was that possibility, and I can remember at the end of plea year, we actually saw. The evacuation. Everybody saw the evacuation from Vietnam and how chaotic it was. The entire army was geared toward deployment and another war similar to the Vietnam War. It was probably 10 years later, by the time I got the Command Jones staff that we had actually significantly changed, uh, tactics to be not so focused on, on the war, similar to Vietnam, but to a war.

That might be worth, uh, defending against the Soviet Union. All our instructors, throughout my time at the academy, we had an awful lot of opportunity to hear from the staff and faculty about their experience. Just about every instructor had been to Vietnam. Some had been there on multiple tours. You know, we were ingrained and focused on what was gonna be that next step and prepared to go to war, but most of us didn't.

Go to, uh, a war until Desert Storm, and that was pretty different war from where Vietnam had been. It's interesting how the academy introduces us early on to what we expect the next war to be, but in reality, it may be something very different by the time we graduate. 

[00:19:45] MaShon Wilson: Yeah, very much so. I came in and the time, we were in the midst of that transition, so we'd been at war in Afghanistan for six, almost seven years, and so most of my instructors were.

Classes of the late nineties. And so they served as, you know, staff officers or commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so it was, it was clear as day, like you're going somewhere either Afghanistan, Iraq, and I remember like even though we went through the Rback, we were talking about the rifle ban at a salt course.

Every conversation was about how do you lead patrols, how do you respond to IEDs? Kind of dealing with a lot of those relevant skills. And I think for me as a third generation veteran, it kind of hit differently. And so I remember listening to stories as a, a kid in the nineties, late eighties of my grandparent.

It's in the second World War. And so I felt like nine 11 was my, my Pearl Harbor moment. And so that's, that was kind of the back of my mind coming to the academy. And then as my classmates graduated, People were looking at the patch charts, the deployment rotations, to see which units were the first thing out the door.

So when they graduated, they were ready and, and getting after it as best they could. So it's interesting to just see those themes across different years of classes. 

[00:21:01] Carl Owens: The year before you graduated Macan, I was the board selective PM as a civilian for the m a program, and I lived in Detroit for four years.

I spent a lot of it deployed, putting M MRAPs into Afghanistan. And, uh, one, it was the most rewarding thing I'd done in my career, both in military and a civilian, to be part of something that took, that occurred in less than 18 months. We were able to deploy vehicles and save a lot of lives. Not only was it Army, but the mere fact that it was had joint missions.

I learned a great deal from my marine counterparts and even our Air Force folks who are engaged. And it turns out though, this is how West Point is large, but small. So I've been on the program for. It was a joint program and the headquarters was at the Marine headquarters at Quantico. I was in Detroit and I'd come to meetings and I'm about two years into being a PM when I'm sitting in a meeting and I wear my, I have one of my West Point shirts on.

This so happened that the counterpart to me was a West Point grad. Not only was he a West Point grad, but he was. My classmate, and we had not known each other when we were at the academy. So the world can be both large and small. And so 

[00:22:32] MaShon Wilson: in talking about how large and small the world is, you given us a context for the time that you entered the academy and what that looked like.

What did the population of minorities or black West pointers look like when you were at the academy? How big or small was it? 

[00:22:47] Carl Owens: I think I can illustrate that pretty quickly. The first graduate of West Point is class of 1877, Henry Flipper. The fourth graduate, black graduate of West Point is Bo Davis, Jr. In 1936.

By the time we get to the early seventies, the classes have been really small and less than a hundred West pointers. Black West pointers have graduated. Less than a hundred by early 1970s. The class before me was probably the largest class. That class was roughly about 80, and then the class of 78 was roughly about a hundred minority cadets.

So you can see by the time I get there in 1974, in the class of 77 and 78. Almost doubled a total number of total graduates since 1877. So that tells you how quickly things changed. But you know, I have keep in mind that the Academy itself had doubled in size. It used to be two regiments, it had ballooned in, uh, sixties to four regiments.

But even then, it kind of blows your mind that almost a hundred years. You graduated less than the two classes that enter in in 1973 and 1974. 

[00:24:14] Kafi Joseph: Yeah. It's amazing to see, like you said, that growth. And then I remember, I don't know the stats Carl, like you do for, for my class off the top of my head for all of the minorities in my class or all of the black people.

But I do know that my class had. We came in at 23 black women. We graduated 19. I have a, I'm the, the nerdy person that keeps the list. I have a list. I'm like, who? The W PB G three. All right. This is who we have. Um, so I know that we graduated 19, and I remember seeing on TikTok when the class of, I think it was 2021.

That have the highest number of black women to graduate in recent history, and to see that 2021, it's not quite 20 years later. We went from 23 to 40. It was cool. And I understand that our demos have to, you know, we want them ideally to mirror the army and all of those things. And it also felt like not enough.

And I kept that to myself, but I remember just being like, but that's it really. In 20 years, it's like essentially one black woman per year. And then I remember also when I was a cadet, there was a, 80 something grad, I can't remember her year group we're, you know, we're at football game, we're rocking the black and go running.

She's like, how many black women are in your class? You know, she's all excited to hear the numbers. And I'm like, we have 23, or, you know, how many of we had at the time? And she was, she kind of felt like I saw it on her face, like how I felt at that time, which I think they maybe had 10 or maybe 15 in their class to, to not have seen the numbers increase.

Incrementally, and again, similar another 20 years later. So I know the academy's doing well and I know across the board, you know, what we hear from admissions that the numbers have increased and the quality of grads, you know, and what they're accomplishing, our minority in our black grads are accomplishing, um, has increased its amazing seat and we know that we can still do more.

So those are the numbers for our classmates. And I feel like the. When I look at the first Cs who were ahead of us, like we were a big class of black women. Our class of black women are still very tight. We vacationed together. Every two years we're going somewhere international. We just came out from Aruba in February.

You know, I've heard from classes behind ours that they looked up to us cause we were, we were pretty close, but the classes of like 2000 maybe had like five or six black women and. The class of 2001, the same, 2002, maybe, you know, double that. So it's just really interesting to see that the numbers have increased and I always feel like we could still do more.

We can add more. So felt like there were a lot more black male classmates, like in the, you know, hundreds, a couple, not a couple hundred, but like probably the low hundreds. But I don't know those stats. And then as far as just diversity overall, I do remember that there is a joke about the Fifth Ridge. So obviously there were four regiments where we were cadets.

There's a fifth regiment that's, you know, the Black Cadets and apparently the Asian cadets got in on it. So First Battalion of Black Cadets and Second Battalion, the Asian cadets. Um, so I mean, there was, I do remember and feeling like, hey, yes, of course, overwhelmingly the academy. It's predominantly white.

However, feeling like we had pockets and groups within our different groups. There's also a vibrant, uh, Latino community when I was there with classes, you know, engaging. And then, uh, the different clubs and groups that we had. So obviously we're not in a HB H B C U, we obviously weren't at a, um, historical, you know, Hispanic, uh, in serving institution.

However, I felt like the communities that we had, Um, there were enough of us to have that community. It wasn't like, oh, I'm the one or the two, or, you know, a handful. So that I feel like is different than the classes. Um, definitely, obviously the classes before us having smaller numbers. 

[00:28:02] Carl Owens: So I'm old, but I'm not old enough to have known Henry Flipper as the first black cadet.

But I do know the two first female cadets. I was a, a cow. When we integrated women into the academy in the summer of 76, there was a, a big project called Project Athena prior to that, so I can remember them doing the drills. Some of us participated in preparing beasts to have introduced women. Uh, the other part was when the first women came on board, there weren't enough to have in every company, So essentially everybody was women and there might be three women because they tried to keep it so that people, women had, uh, roommates and some of the floors were isolated.

But I can remember it there being, for me, it was kinda seamless. I re really didn't think a whole lot about it because, uh, I saw women being welcome into the core. But I'm sure that women faced a lot of adversity. In those years, in 1976, later on, I served with George Dallas, who's the second black female to graduate Pat Locke.

Pat was a first black female to graduate and she was on the, uh, one of the rivals at the court squad. And just so happened, uh, one of my roommates was by the time she graduated as when we were first, is one of my roommates was interested in her. So I knew her from that perspective. But, you know, we all, everybody in the gospel choir, we had no problems having women in the gospel choir.

We needed some sopranos. Because we had too many bass in that group. 

[00:29:50] Kafi Joseph: Yeah. We had cast, when we were cadets, we had cash jams. So I, uh, DJ'ed at the radio station. Cause that was the best way I could get access to music as a plebe without breaking any regs. So I would DJ for cash jams. And then, uh, we had nsbe, so the National Society of Black Engineers, and I don't know if they called it that when you were, um, they called 'em NSBE cues 

[00:30:11] Carl Owens: when you were.

Actually, NSBE didn't, wasn't at the academy when I was there. I I, when I went to grad school, I majored in engineering at the University of Central Florida, and I joined NSBE as a captain. Uh, I didn't know, uh, NSBE existed when I was a cadet. I found out later on when I, after graduation and working with other engineers that it was an organization.

Um, I'm glad to see the academy integrated that into the program also. I've been contributing toward those as special donations probably for about 15 years or more. Primarily because the Academy allows you to do designated donations. I designate to the gospel choir, the Contemporary Affairs Seminar in a, another program that I highly recommend is the one that brings, uh, youth to the academy.

In the leaders experience? Yeah, I think that's an extremely valuable program. Primarily because not only do you get to see the Academy, but it sends kids back out to their schools to talk to friends. About the academy. One thing I didn't talk about was I didn't go to the academy alone primarily. My neighbor, uh, decided to go to West Point.

Now, he was being recruited for basketball, but he was an outstanding student, was boy State, which is one of the highest honors you can get for both academic and leadership skills. When he found out that I was interested in going to West Point, the two of us made a pact that we go there together. Which we fulfill.

Both of us went there. We fly into, uh, New York and stay at what was called a plaza located on Park Avenue. We get off the bus at the academy, and that's the last time we see each other for the next six weeks until beach is over. And so anyway, he decided that, uh, he had this longtime girlfriend. He decided he was homesick and unlike me, he actually went through and decided to leave the academy and went back and completed his degree at the University of Alabama Electrical Engineering did outstanding, uh, was a, uh, executive in Alabama Power, and now he's a minister in our hometown.

But it's important that people share these type of stories because it was the mere fact that two of us had an experience and a common desire that we both got each other interested in going to the academy. And I think these summer programs also produced that type of energy where somebody might not be aware that's fully capable of meeting the academics, rigor, uh, reading West Point standards.

They just don't have the knowledge in their community. That's a good 

[00:33:06] MaShon Wilson: point, Mr. Owens. Uh, I think a lot of those programs, not only they're funded by academy graduates through the March of Excellence program, but also they help kind of feed into that broader network of people that go out and do great things once they leave the academy.

I've seen several of those while I was at Cadet. I know we have one of the most diverse extracurricular programs in the nation. Everything from skydiving to sailing. Then similar to Kafi was very involved in nsbe. Cass met a couple other clubs specifically around. My fellow Minority Cadets, I kind of built my own sense of community.

[00:33:39] Kafi Joseph: To build onto that. I visited West Point High School, but when we bring in students who are applying minority students who are most likely going to get accepted or, you know, we bring them in for that that weekend when they're in high school and they get paired up with a ple. I did that. Um, in high school I did that with my best friend who also went into the academy with me.

I should shout him out. Colleague Johnson, Brock. Class oh three. Um, we did both graduate together, but that was also important. So like we flew in, we did that. My experience, I was thinking about, uh, I'll admit this now cause I made the right choice, but I was thinking about going to the Naval Academy. You know, I grew up in Maryland.

It's here. 

[00:34:17] Carl Owens: I was going to the Air Force Academy until my buddy said we both need to go to West Point. 

[00:34:22] Kafi Joseph: Yeah. And it's, it was closer, you know, I knew about it. It was more readily accessible to me, like in my. Experience and what I was exposed to, I was gonna be a Marine Corps officer. All those things I had figured out cause I was in junior ROTC and all of that.

But so we both were. So we went to visit West Point though and staying with the plebes that we stayed with seeing other black women, seeing them interact, seeing their community and the close knitness, like I got to see the gospel choir, you know, before, although I did not join cause I cannot hold a note y'all, but.

[00:34:53] Carl Owens: That wasn't a criteria when I was a cadet. 

[00:34:57] Kafi Joseph: They sing good. No, but 

[00:35:01] Carl Owens: they, they were treating you guys like the Glee club. Cause when I was cadet there were only like three kids who were from the Glee Club who come sing what the gospel choir and they carry all the other songs. And all we do is harm in the background.

[00:35:17] Kafi Joseph: Um, but being able to visit the academy at, you know, and to see that was instrumental for me because I did the Naval Academy summer seminar and I did my West Point visit. But seeing that community and then, you know, having the cadets. That I stayed with, like just share, you know, their experiences and everything else.

That was critical for me. And I think the other part is having talked to some black women who, again, cause I was in junior R otc, a lot of people in my circles went to the academies. Some of the black women who went to the Naval Academy, what they described as their midshipman experience was not what I saw and heard from the West Point.

Women who were. They're ahead of me. They did not have that close Knitness, their community was not the same, was very different. That's not a knock on the Naval Academy or anything like that, but that's just what it was. And so it was that visit and having the ability to visit and to actually be around cadets and be immersed in it and see it firsthand was, um, was key for me as well.

And making sure, you know, I, I chose to go where I did. So 

[00:36:19] MaShon Wilson: yeah, I came as a rising senior to SLE and then, Had a really good outreach officer and had privileges come back and be one myself. And so I think a lot of those programs really provide a good window because all they talked about on the west coast was maybe Naval Academy and Air Force.

And so seeing just the type of people that come to West Point, the type of drive, the type of community and the type of friends I still have to this day, we're in a moment's notice, I'll dip set to halfway around the world and a moment's notice is, uh, something I'll forever treasure. And so talking about that, we talked about a little bit how the lasting impact that you had at the academy, what the community looked like.

What is like your lasting legacy when you look back over your academy career or your military career with something that you're like, I'm known for this, or I'm remembered because of this. Whether it's a club, an initiative, it could be any of those 

[00:37:16] Carl Owens: things. One of the things that I, I learned at the Academy West Point was a great place for me to understand leadership and to learn about diversity.

Having grown up in an environment in which integration was very new, and you know, I say that's only 10 years after the, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One things I learned was that you know, for the most part, people are people, and it helps, it helps to see people who, who look like you and understand where you come from.

Because there was a whole, and when I say that, I mean from a regional point of view, because I was a southerner coming into an environment in which there were people from all, all kinds of, from the northeast and from the west, and. Trying to just navigate that diversity and then navigating racial diversity.

All of those things helped me develop and learn and develop relationships based on how I clicked with people. Whether you have friends, and I'm sure you had that when you were at the academy, that transition, their outward appearance. It's not about outward appearance, it's that feeling that you get being around them.

And you know, I developed some very close relationships, both black and white. But what I did learn o, once I left the academy was taking all those leadership lessons to the office. Infantry officer, basic course. Understanding how to relate to folks, and then working with a bigger part of people who come from rotc, HBCUs, big universities.

Just understanding that the most important thing that you learn is how to communicate and interact with people and to be brave enough to start up a conversation with people. That you don't know and what you do find out as you far more alike than you are different. And that was the most important. I would've never learned that.

I would've learned that, but I wouldn't. I didn't have that opportunity to learn that early on because, cause I was growing up, even in high school, it was a little different in high school because I did get. Busting to, to integrating a white high school in Birmingham as part of the forced integration movement after the federal courts had intervened because brown versus void of education occurred in 1950, in the 1950s in the South.

The integration didn't get enforced until the late sixties and early seventies. So you can see there was an awful lot of transition going on, but most important thing I learned from my experience at West Point was h how to communicate and how to interact with people who, who are like and different from me.

[00:40:15] Kafi Joseph: For me a hundred percent. It's women's army rugby. Right? It's having founded, being the first team captain, just this past, uh, November, planning and celebrating our first ever celebration of 20 years of, of the women's rugby team is huge. At the time that we were establishing the team and starting the team, we were not thinking about a legacy.

We were not thinking about. The impact we were just thinking about wanting to play a sport and wondering how the heck the Academy doesn't have one, maybe an Air Force House won. How come we don't have a women's team? And then being able to participate. So when we, like I said, in November, by the chance of the universe, our anniversary celebration was literally.

To the day, 20 years of when, uh, the commandant, uh, general Brooks granted us team statehood. When we were planning, people were pulling things out from their hard drives. Everything else that someone actually found the email where he said, all right, you all are good. Start making it happen. So when we planned our anniversary weekend for women's rugby the first night, first of all, we had, okay, woo, how am I getting emotionally, y'all?

And it only happens when I'm, when I'm on camera or something. But we, we had an exhibit at the West Point Museum, so for the whole first semester of the year, up until December of, uh, of 2022, there was an exhibit on women's army rugby, which is insane to think, you know, we're just now hitting our 20 year.

Uh, graduation anniversary. Our, our reunions coming up 20 years of the team, and we've got an exhibit for the rugby team. So our first event was planned around that exhibit. The exhibit had pictures of, you know, the first team had jerseys, had tickets from when they first won the national championship, which was only in 2011.

So just under, you know, 10 years out of being founded. It had. Olympian jerseys. We have rugby players who are Olympians that came from the academy, and so. That to me was amazing to see. And people tell me like, this is your legacy. And I'm like, what are you talking about? And it is though, right? Have to have to have to own that around our programming.

The very first night we held a Receptional welcome reception in the museum so that everyone could see that exhibit. And then for Carl, we call Women's Army Rugby War, and the players are warriors, uh, which is. Which is actually pretty dope now because, uh, we have some people who no longer identify necessarily as women.

And so to be able to just call them warriors and, and not have to worry about, you know, misgendering someone is pretty cool. But that first night we had a session where we called it war Stories. And so we just asked everyone who was there. Once we had the sessions, the refreshments and the, the current cadets came through.

There were recruits, y'all. We have recruits now, like Women's Rugby's now at D one Sport, and they had, uh, cadet candidates who were being recruited. So after we did all of that, we just sat around and shared stories like your favorite experience, your best experience about the women's rugby team and what I did not expect or anticipate.

Was to hear from women who, for whom the team was a, a, a light, grace and saving force because we also, while I myself am a straight woman, I am an ally to the pride community and there were a fair amount of women on the team who were suffering under don't asks, don't tell. Figuring out what to do. They were at odds with how they're living a lie and how that was at odds also with the honor code and what to do and this team provide community for that group.

So that was very interesting and I didn't even know or didn't even think about what this team would be doing, and that's what it did. Another thing that was pretty cool for me, uh, when I was back at the academy and working in admissions is I'm sitting around. Maybe some of your classmates are a year after you.

They're like, yeah, ma'am. If you're a black girl at West Point, you either run track, play ball, or play rugby. And I was like, what? How? That's pretty dope. I don't know that's necessarily the same now, but in 2008, 2000, 2007, eight, that was true. And I think that's also because of who started the team. When you try to do something, you start something, you bring your friends into it.

A lot of my, my girlfriends who are, uh, classmates that are black women that were on that team, there were like 10 black women on the team, and they're like, I'm only doing this because you're doing, this is important to you. We wanna do this, but I support you and you know, you're my sister and so I'm gonna do that.

And so, Similarly to cast and NSBE and everything else, when you see community, you see people who look like you. You have a place to go. And so for the people who are like, I'm not, I can't sing, or I'm not, I didn't come in a track star. The rugby team at that time was, if you're an athlete, which every cadet is, if you have some tenacity, you can come here.

Nobody has ever played rugby before. So you can learn it and you can excel. And so that was a space in a home for them. And so all of that has been interesting. And then when I to hearing that at 20 year anniversary was amazing. Things that I couldn't even fathom that the team did for women and for the rugby players and the Warriors.

That was awesome. And then I also just got to witness firsthand. I was back at the academy as an outreach officer. They do mass athletics. Of course I'm gonna be a O I C coach, whatever you need for the rugby team. Cause I'm here and I'm standing up on the steps like, Pretending like I'm a sport that's supposed to be there.

What are you doing? Come over here. Join the rugby team. Run down I the class of 11. They were my s i throughout their time at the academy. Go out into the army and to see their sisterhood. The thing that I didn't have was we started the team when I was at the end of my cow years when we started, uh, working towards forming it, and then my first year.

So my friendships that I had the academy were forged before we started the team. The rest of these women, when I talked to them, they just expressed to me how much. That team is their family, their sister, and any team or club that you've been on that's done that, that team isn't. And so it's really amazing for me, um, to hear that, to see that it's surreal.

Cause I still feel like I'm a young grad, you know, for someone to say that that's your legacy or that's the contribution and it's beautiful for me. And the, the founding 40 that, you know, that's something that we've left for the academy and for it to mean so much for so many different communities of women or.

The people who are on, on the team, it's great if there's nothing else that happens, that's a, uh, an accomplishment that I'm very proud of and happy to contribute to the academy. 

[00:46:48] Carl Owens: Kafi, you are a young grad. I'm going to my 45th for reunion in October, so 

[00:46:54] Kafi Joseph: Oh, I'll see you there. I'll be for my, my year. 

[00:46:59] Carl Owens: So youre young.

I can remember being aple and we be standing there and they, it is getting close to June week and these people from the fifties would come. And I look at those guys and said, man, those guys are ancient man. What are these that, that really meant old grad to me. And then I looked at my picture from our 30th reunion, and we were all the old Baldhead guys that looked like the same guys that they're in the fifties.

So it'll happen to you too. 

[00:47:32] Kafi Joseph: Hopefully not the hair part though. No, not the hair part. Not the hair part.

[00:47:40] MaShon Wilson: All great accomplishments. I think for me, looking back, it's probably on the RESPECT committee. I was on the Brigade Respect committee and it showed me how. How challenging, rewarding d e I and EEO can be in a predominantly white setting, whether that's at the academy or in corporate life in the past two corporations have been a part of and help reinforce what the, the important pieces of change are and how important both allyship and sponsorship looks in that process.

And so similar to Kafi's earlier point, even as a straight male, I helped with the repeal that don't ask, don't tell policy. My first year when I was on the Brigade respect committee. And so just the amount of opportunities that I've had at the academy and in military life to cause an impact far greater than myself, I'll really treasure those.

And the fact that even though I've been at Outreach for several years, I still get the random cold calls of people wondering what they should do with their life next. And I really enjoy that, that ability to reach back and mentor. And so we, we've talked about a lot of great things. You guys have given some amazing advice.

Both about joining the academy during times of strife, during various conflicts. Are there any other like parting words of wisdom that you would give to young grads, particularly black grads that might be helpful both in shaping their military career for success, but also when they decided transition?

You know, any words that can help follow them throughout their lives and careers? 

[00:49:08] Carl Owens: So, uh, I'll chime in on this one. Primarily because, uh, I got words of wisdom a long time ago from, uh, when I was a cadet because, uh, you know, I say the transition was hard. Sometimes, uh, going to AI and doing all the things to make sure I graduated from the academy and, and, you know, you, you leave high school and you know, on a high because you, you know, I was at the top of my class doing all these things and all of a sudden I get to the academy and it's like a culture.

It is like somebody threw cold water on you. One of the things that people told me and encouraged me to remember that this four years is a training ground. You're gonna get a great education. You're going to, you're going to, uh, do all the things that you need to do to prepare yourself to be an officer.

But the key is you're gonna graduate in four years or five years, but one day you are gonna be an officer. Whether that's, whether that's for five years or 30 years like me. And, and, and what you have to realize is your life is not going to end or be accelerated based on what you did at Academy in the past.

The day you put on that second lieutenant bar, you've stepped into a new arena, and you should be using every lesson that you learned to excel as an officer, because that's the 30 year part or the five year part. The four year part of West Point is important, but remember, You're being blessed at graduation with a new day to make sure you the best that you can be for the next five or 30 years or whatever career path you decide.

So a lot of cadets really get married and can't. I, I, I've seen it over and over. I served as, uh, an assignments officer as a major at HRC too often, cadets. Get married in this, this perspective. Either they excelled or they failed or they just made it and never f and they, they're still buried in that thought process about what occurred at West Point.

The day you become a second lieutenant, you need to be doing whatever it takes to be the best officer or the best human you're gonna be in. You're gonna be for the rest of your life. 

[00:51:26] Kafi Joseph: That resonates to not get stuck on what happened with you, a cadet that you graduate and everyone is a lieutenant for sure.

I will take it beyond the army. So I will build on that. So for folks who decide not to make a career out of the army, I think there's two things that I would, two pieces of advice that I would share, and it's from lessons learned for myself. So the first one is we have a built-in network. Use it. Uh, I think there is.

Some hesitancy, um, sometimes around using the network around leveraging it, about reaching out or cold-calling. Use your, use that network. Um, connect with people that you have in your class. Connect with people that you have met. Literally every single role that I have had since I left the Army, I have never applied for the job.

It has been through my West Point network because we know what, while our experiences are different, we know the core and the crux of the people who, who come to the academy, who stay at the academy, who graduate from the academy. So leverage that network, use that network. Um, I have yet to know someone that turned me away because I said, Hey, I'm also a fellow grad and I have some questions or some advice I'd like, so using that work.

The second one that I would say is for you have the opportunity for your own path. Gone are the days of you've gotta hit this set milestone at this set time to do this set thing, to go on this path. And it's scary. I feel like sometimes people feel like, well then when I get outta the Army, I've gotta go to grad school and then I have to do this, and then I have to.

That maybe if that's what you wanna do. So I think for folks who are thinking about getting out of the army, Or when you get out, just take some opportunities to step back and reflect on who you are, what you wanna be, and then think about the path that you wanna forage and, and then get after it. It's also okay to try a few different things, uh, before settling on on that one thing.

So it's not like you picked your branch and then you're stuck for five years. You can try something, you can do something else and do another thing. So I think those are the two pieces. That I have for folks, especially those who are, who are saying, Hey, I, I may not make a career out of this. What does that look like?

Use your network and take the opportunity to forge that path, uh, the way that you want it to be 

[00:53:39] MaShon Wilson: forged. All amazing points. I add on a couple things. I would say one, doing the small things and doing them right, and so when you're a lieutenant or a cadet, it means being the right place, right time, right uniform, and that's like 90% of the confidence battle.

The next piece I would also say, Is, don't talk about it, be about it. How often do you run into people where they're talking about the same thing two years later, three years later? It could be a wild dream or you could like do the small steps to make it happen. And I think West Point in the military equips you with making those small plans and milestones to make the incredible or real possibility.

In my case, it's been more startup than like podcasts and even coming to Google. But in other people it looks like a variety of different other things. And so you can turn those dreams into reality similar to anything else. And then the last piece, I would say focus less on the tactics and more on the strategy and thought process.

I could tell you how to like write an board. I could tell you how to write a resume, but the question is, like Kafi said earlier, why are you doing it and where are you trying to go? And so doing that soul searching and it is a scary and a lot of like listening to yourself and talking to people that know you.

To figure out what that looks like for you. And so on that note, uh, I really appreciate my guests here today. They've given some great wisdom and perspective from civil rights in Vietnam to Women's Army rugby in the war on terror. And so I thank my guests for their time and their wisdom. 

Carl Owens: Thank you.

Kafi Joseph: Thanks for having us.

Narrator: This has been a production of the WPAOG Broadcast Network. Please take a moment to rate and review the show and join us each week for a new episode. Thank you for listening.