Elite units in the military are by and large both white and male. Pentagon officials, however, are hoping for a major demographic shift, citing the benefits of diversity in terms of increasing operational capability.
Data provided by each individual service to USA Today illustrates current disparities, which are most prominent in units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Green Berets. For instance, in the Army, blacks comprised 17 percent of the force in 2013, a figure slightly higher than their representation in the overall population. As the ranks start climbing, the numbers shift. Blacks amount to only 9.4 percent of officers in the military.
In the Navy SEALs, just 2 percent are black, while Native Americans make up about 4 percent, or 99 SEALs.
Only 5.6 percent of enlisted Green Berets are black. But in the Air Force, among para-rescuers, the number drops even further down to .6 percent.
The Pentagon considers this to be a problem.
“We don’t know where we will find ourselves in the future,” said Army Col. Michael Copenhaver. “One thing is for sure: We will find ourselves around the globe. And around the globe you have different cultural backgrounds everywhere. Having that kind of a diverse force can only increase your operational capability.”
Copenhaver wrote a paper in 2014 arguing that integrating minorities into Special Operations Forces would help address national security threats because those minorities would have specific knowledge of culture in a given deployment area.
“It’s imperative that top military leaders from each service review the approach to minority representation across the force and how the military can adapt to meet the demands of the future,” Copenhaver stated.
The Pentagon in general has made bolstering diversity a major priority in the last several years, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter leading the charge with public pronouncements about the benefits of a diverse force and a recent decision to review the ban on transgender servicemembers. The military, Carter has argued, needs to reflect the demographic makeup of the future. As such, the services have made a concerted effort to favor minorities, assigning more weight to race when considering officer promotions.
Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave a speech at the Aspen Security Conference in July, in which he argued very forwardly that “SOCOM needs diversity, we need people of color, we need men, we need women to help us solve the problems that we deal with today,” Votel said. “So we need good people; men, women, people of all colors.”
In 2012, the Navy SEALs launched major outreach initiatives into minority communities, saying that it wants to mirror “the demographics of the nation it serves.”
“Diversity makes us a better fighting force,” a senior defense official told USA Today. “It’s not simply a question of equity
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