As protests over police brutality and race equality continue across the nation, the Defense Department says it is creating an organization to develop concrete and actionable recommendations to increase diversity and better equality in the military.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the six-month review board on Thursday as part of a larger push to address discrimination, inequality and race in the military.
“We are not immune to the forces of bias and prejudice — whether visible or invisible, conscious or unconscious,” Esper said in a video posted on Twitter. “We know this bias burdens many of our service members, and has direct and indirect impact on the experiences of our minority members, the cultural and ethnic diversity of the force, and representation in our officer ranks. These things have no place in our military; they have no place in our country.”
Bias & prejudice have no place in our military, or in our country. Prejudices – whether visible or invisible, conscious or unconscious—remain a burden to many. They hold back the diversity of the force, representation in our officer ranks, and experiences of our minority members. pic.twitter.com/uhScevfv9y
The Defense Department is also setting up an external Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services. The body will mirror the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, which has provided recommendations on gender to the military since 1951.
Finally, Esper said he directed the civilian and uniformed leadership of the Pentagon to immediately present actionable ideas that the department can begin implementing now.
“My goal is to effect an enterprise-wide, organizational and cultural shift. The actions I have identified today are just the first steps, but there is more to be done,” Esper said. “Over the next few months, I will be working across the department to identify additional ways to foster lasting change, from recruiting, career track selection, and retention; to assignments, schools, and promotions; to military justice and everything in between and beyond.”
The military has made a push to make itself more diverse as its need for more varied talents has increased, with cyber and space becoming contested domains.
However, the Pentagon is struggling with a handful of race issues. The Navy and Marine Corps recently banned the use of the Confederate flag and the Army is considering banning it as well.
There is a national debate, which has reached as high as the president, over whether military installations bearing the name of Confederates should be renamed.
The military also faced backlash after President Donald Trump called up active duty service members to respond to Black Lives Matter protests in Washington. Esper’s use of the word “battlespace” when describing civil unrest during a call with Trump and state governors also drew ire.
Additionally, the Pentagon admitted it lacks diversity in its officer corps and its top leaders are mostly white men.
There’s also the issue of judicial punishment in the military. Studies by independent organizations and the Government Accountability Office found black and Latino service members were more likely to be subjects of investigations and courts martial.
Despite being aware of the judicial racial disparities for years, the military has not addressed the problem or taken steps to better the data it collects on the issue — which has been inconsistent, according to GAO.
The judicial leaders of the military services promised Congress earlier this week that they would make data on courts martial and race uniform, accessible and organized.
“We just have a lot of work to do and we just have to get after this,” Maj. Gen. Daniel Lecce, staff judge advocate to the Marine Corps commandant, said. “We realize we are at the beginning. We are looking at data, we are trying to understand the data, but there’s a lot of hard work that has to be done.”