‘Eroding Morale’: Veterans Group Strikes Back At DOD Over Race-Based Admissions

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • While the Department of Defense has argued that affirmative action increases diversity, which thereby benefits the military’s performance, a veterans group says using racial characteristics to build an officer corps weakens the force and harms national security.
  • The case argued Monday, Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, could determine whether military service academies can consider race when making admissions decisions.
  • “It is a national security imperative that DOD stop using racial preferences, by whatever name, and return to a race neutral, equal opportunity, merit-based system of selecting who will be our future military leaders,” Scott McQuarrie, president of Veterans for Fairness and Merit, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Affirmative action in military service academies is a national security risk, a veterans group argued, directly contradicting the Department of Defense (DOD) stance presented at Monday’s supreme court hearings.

One of the cases argued Monday could overturn a fundamental principle by which the U.S. military determines who fills the officer corps ranks by making it unconstitutional to consider race in university admissions, a possibility DOD officials say would undermine racial diversity in the force and thus harm national security, according to Military Times. However, the military academies’ admission process could undermine national security by privileging race over qualification and fostering resentment among the ranks, a group of hundreds of veterans argued in an amicus brief.

“In the military, even slight differences in leader quality can make the difference between mission success or failure and life or death on the battlefield,” Scott McQuarrie, president of Veterans for Fairness and Merit (VFM), told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is a national security imperative that DOD stop using racial preferences, by whatever name, and return to a race neutral, equal opportunity, merit-based system of selecting who will be our future military leaders.”

“The military’s use of racial preferences today is unquestionably harmful to our national security. Such preferences are antithetical to the ‘selfless servant,’ colorblind culture necessary for our military to prevail on the battlefield,” VFM said in the brief. (RELATED: Military Diversity Czar Made Racist And Derogatory Posts: REPORT)

The military service academies explicitly consider race as a factor to assess a prospective student’s application, according to Military Times.

Racial preferences employed in military academies’ selection process have proven “costly,” “inefficient” and eroded the quality of officers produced, the organization argued. VFM also claimed from a reliable source that an experienced general officer said that selection boards deliberately preferenced black officers who fell short of the criteria for being assigned to fill the ranks of command over better qualified white officers.

Students for Fair Admissions brought a case against the University of North Carolina in 2021 arguing that admissions board passed over Asian-American and white applicants in favor of certain minorities, violating the constitutional rights of the disregarded students. The university policy behind the selection process seeks to equalize socioeconomic factors that could make it more difficult for minority students to successfully apply for college.

The case challenges the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger ruling, which found that affirmative action does not violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The UNC case could determine whether public universities — including military service academies — can consider race when making admissions decisions.

“Our armed forces know from hard experience that when we do not have a diverse officer corps that is broadly reflective of the diverse fighting force, our strength and cohesion and military readiness suffer,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said at the Supreme Court hearing Monday.

“Unfortunately, despite the [Solicitor General’s] claims, DOD’s race-based practices far exceed what was admitted to and what the Grutter standard envisioned,” McQuarrie told the DCNF.

Top former military leaders argued in an August amicus brief that the officer corps is less racially diverse than the body of enlisted servicemembers across the military branches, and that an inability to enact affirmative action would widen the discrepancy.

Over 75% of active duty officers are white, according to the latest DOD demographic data. “Black and African American” individuals make up 19% of the enlisted active duty force, compared with 9% of officers.

Caroline Krass, DOD general counsel, also joined a separate brief with legal heads of other federal departments who say the court should uphold Grutter because the “nation’s military strength and readiness depend on a pipeline of officers who are both highly qualified and racially diverse.”

Current defense leaders maintain that racial diversity is a “readiness issue,” critical to ensuring the total force is healthy and equipped with a broad variety of tools to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the modern battlefield.

However, VFM argued that no solid evidence exists showing racial diversity is meaningfully related to the military’s performance.

“Predictably, the black cadet attrition rates are highest, their graduation rates lowest, their composite scores (for those who do graduate) as a group are lowest,” McQuarrie added. “The result is that while West Point commissions, upon graduation, many well qualified officers, some are only marginally qualified.”

“The question comes down to this: If you or your loved one were in combat, would you want leaders of his or her unit to be the ‘best qualified’?  Or, would you be satisfied with lesser-qualified leaders if their skin color reflected the racial composition of the country?” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said in a statement to the DCNF.

In addition, the military’s expansive minority recruitment efforts have already done much to close the gap in racial and ethnic disparities among the armed forces, VFM argued. DOD data shows that in the Army, 12.3% of officers were black — basically reflective of the U.S. general population.

The DOD’s fixation on race “is creating division” and “eroding morale,” McQuarrie told the DCNF.

While the Supreme Court appeared to tilt in favor of the plaintiffs, according to NBC News, Donnelly and McQuarrie suggested that the solicitor general could seek a “national security” carve-out to the final ruling.

The Pentagon referred the DCNF to the individual service academies. West Point and the Air Force Academy did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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