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American Forces Press Service

Pentagon Official Calls Integrated Military 'Model of Diversity'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2008 – The U.S. armed forces have exemplified racial diversity since integrating 60 years ago, but further efforts are necessary to diversify military leadership, a Pentagon official said today.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that led to racial equality among servicemembers. Six decades later, the Defense Department now boasts a diverse work force of roughly 3 million employees.

“The military has been a model for the nation,” Clarence Johnson, DoD’s principal director and director of civilian equal employment opportunity, said in an interview. “Other institutions look at us and see what programs that we’re putting in place.”

Johnson, a former Air Force colonel, said diversity of the services creates a wider talent pool to recruit from, and allows for a more productive and prepared force.

“We find that readiness does not owe any special allegiance to color, to sex to race,” he said. “From the wide populace that we serve, we go out and get the best we can.”

In today’s military, minorities make up more than one-third of active duty forces, with blacks comprising more than 17 percent. Black representation in the enlisted forces -- about 13 percent -- is parallel to the amount of blacks represented in the recruiting-age civilian population overall, according to Defense Department statistics.

Meanwhile, Hispanic representation in the military has grown over the past decade, from about 2 percent to 5 percent among officers overall, and in the enlisted ranks to around 11 percent, Johnson said.

Though the armed forces have made great strides since early integration efforts, a department-sponsored report released this month suggests that major institutional changes may be required to improve diversity among the military’s senior leadership.

The study, published by the nonprofit policy think tank Rand, melds input from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified combatant commands, the Navy and Marine Corps and other defense agencies.

One policy recommendation highlighted in the report, titled “Planning for Diversity,” is to include senior levels of the Defense Department in the push for diversity.

“The highest level of DoD leadership, not just from the personnel community, but also from other functional communities, needs to be involved in this effort,” states a report summary available online.

Echoing the Rand findings, Johnson cited the need for greater representation of minorities and women at senior ranks and grades as a challenge facing the Defense Department.

African-Americans now represent 6 percent of all general and flag officers, and 9 percent of officers overall, levels which have increased steadily over the last decade, according to Defense Department statistics.

Johnson suggested the makeup of the military’s senior levels could achieve greater balance if more minorities entered service academies, Johnson said. He added that blacks are less represented than other races in officer occupations -- career tracks with the best prospect to rise to senior ranks -- with only 20 percent of blacks in tactical operations, while 38 percent of all other races occupy the same fields.

Though not at desired levels, racial diversity among current military leadership is a factor that improves combat readiness, Johnson said.

“The fact that we have a wide variety of race, a wide variety of skill of other diverse characteristics, [means] we then have different types of people making decisions that can impact the mission, and the mission is going to be better for it,” he said.

Johnson said the strength of the Defense Department is its ability to assess itself, and to respond to whatever shortcomings exist.

“I think that the military is going to be strong, because it will continue to be diverse,” he said.

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