President Barack Obama told Air Force Academy graduates Thursday new female leaders and women entering combat roles will make the U.S. military stronger.
Obama dedicated part of his speech to promoting diversity to graduates of the Air Force institution, specifically mentioning several leaders as a new-found source of strength, like Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, the first female combatant commander, who now heads Northern Command.
“On this 40th anniversary of the first female cadets arriving at this academy, we are stronger because Gen. Johnson leads this institution, because Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson leads Northern Command, our nation’s first female combatant commander,” Obama said, referring to Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of Air Force Academy. “And because all combat positions in our military are open to women like you. We’re stronger because of it.”
The decision to open all combat roles to women in December has been hotly disputed and brought on criticism that physical fitness standards are sure to drop because of how bent the administration is on achieving greater representation of women and other minorities in combat and leadership positions. Additionally, many rank-and-file Marines have lost respect for Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and other Department of Defense military leaders, after Mabus went out of his way to criticize Marines who conducted a study showing mixed gender units severely underperformed male-only units. Even female Marines complained Mabus threw them “under the bus.”
In his speech, Obama also referenced the removal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military, which allowed gay and lesbians to serve openly.
“We’re stronger when our gay and lesbian cadets and troops can serve their country, a country they love without hiding who they love,” Obama said.
Obama has aggressively forwarded a diversity agenda during his two terms in the White House, pushing many racial and sexual minorities into key positions of power. In the context of the military, the Obama administration recently nominated Eric Fanning as secretary of the Army last year and bitterly complained when GOP Sen. [crscore]Pat Roberts[/crscore] placed a hold on the process.
Roberts insisted his hold had nothing to do with Fanning’s sexuality, but the hold nevertheless angered the White House, which referred to Roberts’s move as a cheap ploy for attention. Fanning was finally confirmed in May after Roberts said he received assurances from the administration on Guantanamo Bay.
Obama’s speech follows on the heels of a similar speech given by Vice President Joe Biden to West Point’s graduating class in late May. According to Biden, more women and gays in the military will make it stronger, since diversity breeds strength.
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