Republican senators grill military on DEI goals amid recruitment challenges
Republican senators grilled U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army officials on Wednesday about the military’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion training and policies amid recruitment challenges.
Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) slammed the Biden administration’s “woke” agenda during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, and he blamed the undersecretaries of the three military branches for “politicizing” the military.
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“The offspring of identity politics, which is incredibly divisive, has now made its way through DEI trainings in these branches,” Schmitt said. “It is naive to believe this is not divisive among recruits or people in the military.”
All branches except the Marine Corps and Space Force have struggled to meet recruitment numbers. The Army, considered the largest military branch, struggled the most in 2022, with recruitment numbers at 45,000 new soldiers — the goal was 60,000. The Navy and the Air Force barely met their respective targets for active duty personnel.
Acting Undersecretary of the Air Force Kristyn Jones countered that the military was more concerned with retaining its forces than with a physical quota, which DEI policies and training help achieve.
“We’re not looking at any quotas,” Jones said. “But we are looking for where there are barriers that are impacting certain parts of our population in different ways. … For example, barriers we had with women who were choosing to leave our service because of some of the policies we had.”
The Pentagon has not identified any of the more liberal policies as a reason for its recruitment challenges. It blames a lack of interest in the military and a more competitive job market for the challenges. Many citizens are also ineligible for service based on health requirements or because of a criminal background, according to the Pentagon.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, argued that the Pentagon’s focus on woke policies actually “dissuade young people from enlisting” because it gives the false impression that the “military has a problem with diversity and extremism.”
“In truth, the military is the greatest civil rights program in the history of the world,” Wicker said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Undersecretary of the Navy Erik Raven both touted the importance of having diverse teams in the military, claiming it made the troops more effective when they were deployed overseas.
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“The fact the Illinois National Guard has Polish-speaking personnel who can actually be in Ukraine helping train Ukrainians because we have those language abilities is good,” Duckworth said. “It in fact helps with our readiness.”
The new Republican House majority has also drawn attention to the military’s DEI initiatives and climate change policies as unnecessary expenses at the Pentagon and threats to the military’s readiness. They also called for cuts to so-called woke items in the next defense budget as part of a larger fight over high spending, which escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic.