Military Leaders Say DEI Initiatives Aren’t Hurting Recruiting, Accuse Congress Of Politicizing Armed Forces

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Leaders of all branches of the armed services denied “woke” diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives had a negative impact on recruiting and readiness at a House Armed Services Committee personnel subcommittee hearing Thursday. 
  • They pushed back at various narratives circulating about the military and accused Congress of worsening the issue of politicization.
  • “I think the narrative that we are focused on that more than warfighting is what’s perhaps hurting us,” Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Joanne S. Bass said.

The armed services’ top enlisted leaders asserted that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives haven’t damaged recruiting efforts or readiness as lawmakers pressed for clarity at a hearing Thursday.

Republicans sparred with the service leaders over the most significant contributing factors to a problem of politicization and lack of trust in the military, with House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair Jim Banks questioning the Army’s transparency on recruiting barriers. The military officials denied prioritizing DEI programs above warfighting, and some accused Congress of deepening the politicization issue with their incessant focus on wokeness in the military.

“Even by your comments — are we politicizing the military? — it almost feels like we’re politicizing the military,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston responded, adding that his job is to execute policy handed down from the Department of Defense, the president and lawmakers.

Only 9% of young Americans show willingness to serve, according to Department of Defense (DOD) data, officials said. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Hours Before Army Dropped COVID-19 Rules, GOP Rep Pressured Top Officials For Answers)

DEI “was not the number one, two, three, four, five reasons” cited in a survey the Army conducted in 2022 as a barrier to recruitment, Grinston said.

However, Banks and Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida argued the Army selectively disclosed results from the survey to show how social justice policies and the COVID-19 vaccine mandate did not contribute to the service failing its recruiting objectives for fiscal year 2022 by 25% in a letter addressed to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. Service leaders claimed “wokeness” did not feature heavily in survey responses, but the Army has concealed most of the data and methodology of the study.

Banks asked Grinston why the Army declined to publish the full results of the survey. He noted Wormuth had not responded to the lawmakers’ letter.

Grinston said he didn’t know the answer and lacked control over the survey.

“Why not make it public? Why wouldn’t the Army do that?” Banks continued.

Grinston did not respond.

Witnesses testified on ongoing obstacles to military recruiting and quality of life, including decrepit barracks, food insecurity, sexual assault and challenges with suicide and mental health.

Committee Republicans in turn cited examples of DEI programs, like pronoun training at the Air Force academy, that could alienate traditional families and distract from values — like patriotism and defeating the enemy — the lawmakers said once drew them to serve.

“Parents aren’t going to want their kids to join a military if their parents are a family of color [and] they believe it’s one of white supremacy, if they believe their daughters are going to be sexually assaulted, they believe their kids going to … want to commit suicide because of PTSD,” Waltz said at the hearing, citing the 2021 “stand down” to address extremism in the military.

“And on the flip side, as I hear from my constituents who don’t want their kids to join, if, for example, they go to the Air Force Academy and they’re told in their orientation, ‘Don’t say mom and dad, say parents; don’t say boyfriend girlfriend, say partner,'” he added.

“The Air Force does not have pronoun training,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Joanne Bass told Congress.

Leaders from across the services argued that the pictures various groups, including national leaders and lawmakers, painted about the military sat at the heart of the recruiting crisis. They challenged Congress instead to champion military service and praise patriotism as a way of boosting recruitment and morale.

“I think the narrative that we are focused on that more than warfighting is what’s perhaps hurting us,” Bass said in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Andy Kim for each witness whether they saw DEI hurting recruitment, retention or lethality in the force.

“I think if we’re focused more on warfighting and on protecting our nation, I think we’ll probably see those numbers increase,” Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Troy Black said.

The top enlisted Marine earlier lambasted the negative portrayals of the service in the news media, on social media and in popular entertainment, arguing that most coverage glossed over the many positive aspects of military service.

“I would challenge anyone to find any positive story about the military, and if it is, it’s buried on page six,” Black said.

“We are the greatest country in the world and we have the strongest military the world has ever seen, full stop,” Grinston said. That story needs to be shared with the public, he argued.

Service leaders denied that the military had lowered standards to accommodate more recruits, or that doing so would even be effective at overcoming a historic drop in young Americans’ desire to serve.

At basic training, enlistees complete one hour of equal opportunity training, but 96 hours of rifle marksmanship training, Grinston said. While time devoted to honing warfighting skills increased at advanced Army schools, equal opportunity training remained at one hour.

Republican Florida Rep. Cory Mills cited an anecdote that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at one point bumped a course on squad platoon tactics and replaced it with one titled “Intro to Transsexuality,” although no such class or one similarly-titled appears in the current West Point catalog after a DCNF search.

“We’re focusing on talent,” Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman said after Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan questioned witnesses on efforts to increase the number of women in the services. Only the Air Force representative described specific initiatives to promote female service.

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