The Army's top officer said his service needs to re-evaluate why black officers are not choosing careers in the combat arms, which has left those soldiers vulnerable in the ongoing drawdown.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said service officials have recognized the low percentage of black officers serving in infantry, armor and field artillery units as problem and is trying to figure out why it keeps occurring. 

"That's something we've been looking at for a while. That's a long-term problem," Odierno said Monday at a conference hosted in Washington D.C. by the Association of the U.S. Army.

The dearth of black officers in combat arms was highlighted by the larger percentage of minorities who were forced out of the Army in the service's drawdown.

The Army is shrinking its force following automatic budget cuts known as sequestration and the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan. The Army has less than 520,000 soldiers today and is on pace to drop to 490,000 soldiers by next year.

The Army earlier this year convened an Officer Separation Board and an Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board that reviewed the records of nearly 8,000 majors for possible layoffs as part of an ongoing drawdown of the force.

Some 9.8 percent of black majors were dismissed, while 5.7 percent of white majors were let go, the documents show. Meanwhile, 8 percent of Hispanic majors were cut, and 5.9 percent of Asian-Pacific Islander majors were released.

Put another way, blacks made up 128 of the major separations, or 23 percent, while whites accounted for 330, or 60 percent -- even though blacks make up less than 10 percent of the Army's active-duty officer corps, while whites account for almost 80 percent, according to 2012 demographic data.

A larger percentage of black captains also received pink slips in the latest captain drawdown compared to their white peers. One in five black captains will be separated versus less than one in 10 white captains.

Odierno said the Army is focusing on what career paths black officers select at their commissioning source.

"You have to look at it from a commissioning source. We've worked hard in the U.S. Military Academy and ROTC to improve interest in the combat arms. We've made some progress but we have more to go," Odierno said.

The Army four-star said he recognized problems in the diversity of combat arms leadership, but he stood by the process set up to choose what officers would be forced out of the service.

"I'm not worried about the process and how they were selected, I'm more worried about how we got the outcomes. We have to figure out what the problem is here," Odierno said.

The Army has worked hard to emphasize diversity throughout its ranks since he took over as the chief of staff, Odierno said.

"Since I've been the chief, for three years now, we've been focused on the diversity of the force. And it's important to us, first that we have diversity across all branches, and we have diversity across all different ethnic backgrounds," Odierno said. "Whenever you see any statistics that promotion rates might be lower for minorities … it's concerning."

-- Michael Hoffman can be reached at mike.hoffman@monster.com