Diversity needs capability-based metrics

When the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) concluded its findings in March 2011, an Associated Press (AP) headline surmising the MLDC’s final report read, “Report says too many whites, men leading military.”1 Using the MLDC’s math and methodology, the AP headline could easily have read, “Report says too many senior enlisted Black men leading Marine Corps.” The AP article, past diversity commissions mandated by Congress, and the most current MDLC all take a provincial view of diversity aimed at ensuring that within our Armed Forces the head counts have the right colors in the right proportions according to U.S. census data. Or as more specifically stated in the commission’s report, the Secretary of Defense should:

. . . track progress toward the goal of having a dynamic and sustainable 20-30 year pipeline that yields (1) an officer and enlisted corps that reflects the eligible U.S. population across all Service communities and ranks and (2) a military force that is able to prevail in its wars, prevent and deter conflict, defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.2

This is a classic case of misplaced priorities. 3 Putting demographic representation before the ability to prevail in war is a nonstarter, particularly in the case of the Marine Corps, which has always placed mission accomplishment as top priority. This narrow approach has nothing to do with diversifying Marine Corps capabilities. It has everything to do with making mission on demographic numbers for political effect. Our Marine Corps should be interested in diversity capabilities and metrics that have a discernable effect on our key missions – winning battles, and making Marines. This article will discuss suggestions for a Marine Corps diversity focused on prevailing in wars, defeating adversaries, and succeeding over a wide range of contingencies.

The major failing of the MLDC’s report is that real diversity characteristics that do have an impact on warfighting capabilities are identified and then promptly ignored.

The Commission’s research found that 21st-century military leaders will need

* the ability to work collaboratively in interagency environments, with different governments, and in nationbuilding activities

* keen decision-making skills, since leaders will need to address complex and uncertain emergent threats in 21st-century operational environments

* additional knowledge of foreign languages, regional expertise, and cultural skills

* technological skills, since U.S. military and civilian cyber systems are becoming more complex to defend and utilize.

However, the MLDC was misguided from the start, since its charter explicitly stated that:

The commission . . . will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and assessment of policies that provide opportunities for the promotion and advancement of minority members of the Armed Forces, including minority officers who are senior officers.

A properly prioritized comprehensive evaluation would have assessed what capabilities the Armed Forces needs to advance, not which minorities. Specifically, what technological, language, cultural, and decisionmaking skills do servicemembers need, and what type of new collaborative efforts should senior officers explore?

In this regard, our Corps has a broad base of new and established diversity initiatives that are not based on demographic representation by race, ethnicity, or sex. A prime example of collaboration with different governments is the deployment of Georgian battalions, which have been serving with Marines in Afghanistan since 2009. U.S. Special Forces started this European partnership in 2002, and Marines have led training at the Krtsanisi National Training Center since 2003. Other 21st century efforts include new programs to better Marine education and training. This is being accomplished through improving the careers of officers participating in the Special Education Program, increasing all levels of professional military education, and expanded use of squad-based training like the Infantry Immersion Trainer. Language and cultural successes included efforts to improve the health of the foreign area officer/regional area officer programs in 2002 and the planned expansion of these programs to enlisted personnel. Cyber security is a real threat, as Iranian nuclear program researchers discovered with Stuxnet.4 Over 77 million Sony PlayStation Network customers can attest to this as well.5 The creation of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command on 21 January 2010 and the Commandant’s insistence on strengthening that force in light of scheduled force reductions are strong testaments to our Corps’ ever- expandi n g diverse technological skill set.

Unfortunately, a discussion of actual capabilities that diversity brings to the battlefield is an afterthought in the commission’s report. The skill sets that were mentioned appear in one of 20 MLDC recommendations and are further buried in a sub-bullet within a bullet. Instead, the remainder of the report focuses on ways to report and implement their top priority of reflecting the eligible U.S. population, which are ways to instill demographic diversity.

This misprioritization feeds an intellectual divide over demographic diversity. Opponents of this type of diversity have a term for it, sectarian. The Marine Corps often is ordered to intervene into conflicts sometimes described as sectarian, such as in Kosovo in 1999, East Timor in 2002, and Iraq in 2006 and 2007. Some may view sectarian as a euphemism for racist, but there is a difference between the distinctions. A racist believes his race is inherently superior, while a sectarian belief may be that, correctly or incorrectly, aggressive action is needed to obtain the objectives. This is the line of reasoning some bloggers have adopted, particularly a few retired Navy personnel.

Perhaps the most well-known detractor to demographic diversity, at the expense of proven capability, is a tenured 22-year professor at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Bruce Fleming. Professor Fleming, who has taken part of USNA admissions boards, states that the academy’s diversity initiatives have come at a price of lowering the quality of midshipmen.6 He has claimed that the USNA has higher admission standards for white applicants, and separate, lower standards for applicants of other demographics. A 2009 article in The Washington Post suggested that admission data supports his claims, noting that “the share of plebes who scored less than 600 on the SAT [Scholastic Assessment Test] math test was 22 percent this year [class of 2012], up from 12 percent in the Class of 2008.”7

This is not to say that there is no room for improvements in demographic representation and inclusion in the Armed Services, if such policies translate into battlefield capabilities. For example, in an October 2010 speech, thenSecretary of Defense (SecDef) Robert Gates highlighted the disparity in where Army Reserve Officer Training Candidate (ROTC) programs are located.

He noted that Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Army Reserve Officer Training Candidate programs versus only four ROTC programs in the Los Angeles metro area of 12 million and three in the Chicago area with a population of 9 million. 8

Clearly Army ROTC programs are not aligned geographically with U.S. population centers. The MLDC’s final report does perform some geographic diversity analysis, but instead of focusing on aligning ROTC programs with where the people are, increasing their overall effectiveness, or increasing the quality of candidates, it again takes the pedestrian, sectarian approach in regard to racial and ethnic demographics. A Marine Corps diversity study completed in 2010 preceded and quantified the SecDef s suggestion.9 A comparison was made between the percentage of citizens in a state joining the Services and the quality of those citizens. The metrics chosen were high school graduation rates, qualified college candidate rates, and Marine Corps fitness report relative values. Many states with the highest graduation rates and highest percentage of eligible college graduates – predominately northeastern states like Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York – also had the lowest percentage of citizens joining the military.10 For fitness reports, this result held true even when race was accounted for (i.e., taking into account that different races, as a population, have different fitness report scores). Capability-based diversity initiatives should seek to recruit high-performing candidates, regardless of demographics, not those typically characterized as “underrepresented.”

This is also not an argument that the Department of Defense should not have programs and policies that explicitly seek to improve the quality and performance of certain demographics. In a country whose original Constitution adroitly avoids the word “slave” (Article 1, Section 9 refers to “The Migration or Importation of such Persons”) yet makes sure to allow for a tax on slavery “not exceeding ten dollars for each Person,” there certainly has been institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination with long-reaching effects. But this should not be the number one priority. The continued rush to simply increase the number of diverse faces in military spaces is a disservice to the country and to those serving.

The lack of focus on diverse warfighting capabilities, in lieu of demographic diversity, is not limited to the MLDC, but is endemic of our military leadership. Before August 2010, all appointments to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (CGA) “shall be made without regard to the sex, race, color, or religious beliefs of an applicant.” Since Congress approved the Coast Guard Authorization Act in 2009, this fair approach is no longer the case.11 The CGA can now legally use characteristics like race, creed, color, and country of origin as partial criteria for admission. In a 2009 USNA visit, the Chief of Naval Operations said that “diversity is the No. 1 priority” at the USNA.12 The USNA’s superintendent echoed this remark. One would hope that their highest priority would be “to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals”13 as their mission statement dictates. In response to the killing of 13 and wounding of 32 at Fort Hood, TX, on 5 November 2009, by accused Army MAJ Nidal Hasan, the Army Chief of Staff drew great criticism for stating, “As horrifie as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”14 In light of these high-profile statements, it is still surprising that the MLDC’s chairman, a retired four-star general, wrote on the report’s cover letter, “Diversity of our service members is the unique strength of our military.” It should not be surprising that the general belongs to an underrepresented demographic and never served in a combat unit in his 35-year career with the U.S. Air Force.

Diversity is not unique to the military. Others have pointed out that historically, it is not even our strength. 1^ l6 Until fairly recently in our Corps’ history, we have not even been diverse. Indeed, we have come a long way since our 17th Commandant stated before a Navy board in 1941, “If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites.” Our true unique strength lies in our capabilities as a Nation. It should be remembered that this is a Nation that produced over 4 million Ml Garands between September 1937 and Victory in Japan Day in September 1945,17 nearly tripled the size of the active Marine Corps between June 1950 and March 1951 to mobilize for the Korean War,18 and is currently involved in the longest war in our history. The words of President John F. Kennedy at his 1961 inaugural address still ring true:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

These are examples of failures to properly prioritize diversity. Let us examine a recent diversity success. A 2010 article in The Washington Post described analysis that stated that Maryland’s Towson University was one “of 11 higher education institutions nationwide where graduation rates of minority students meet or exceed those of whites.”19 Analysis of recent Towson programs and their graduation rates explains the result.20 The university’s initiatives focused on recruiting local Blacks and Hispanics with high grade point averages (regardless of their testing scores), increasing the quality of support programs for these students, and increasing the duration it allowed traditional students to progress toward graduation. After a 10-year period, results were that the graduation rate of Black students within 6 years of starting school rose from 37 percent to 67 percent. During the same time period, the white student graduation rate rose from 51 percent to 67 percent.

According to former Secretary of the Navy and sitting Virginia Senator (D) , James Webb, even this demographic success is a problem. In a 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal, Senator Webb argues that recent policies such as these “moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against white.”21 The white student graduation rate at Towson rose 16 percent in 10 years; how much more would it have risen if all students were afforded the support only allocated to certain demographics? Senator Webb argues, “Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America, and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs.” He suggests, “Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.” Some of these considerations go beyond Department of Defense responsibilities. But a sectarian view of diversity would continue to insist on increasing programs focused on demographic representation of U.S. populations, while a capabilitiesbased diversity view would examine the collective harm our government has inflicted on certain demographics and perhaps even more targeted assistance to those in need.

The sectarian diversity view may cherish that retired Army GEN John Abizaid is fluent in Arabic and that his great-grandfather was Lebanese. A capabilities-based diversity metric would give credit where due, recognizing that the former Commander, U.S. Central Command, learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, and by self-selecting to study in Jordan (Egypt was his first choice), he became the first Olmstead scholar to study in an Arab country.22 Consider again the case of MAJ Hasan, who interned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2003 to 2007. Two years before Hasan would become infamous, the chief of psychiatric residents at Walter Reed wrote in a memo to the hospital’s credentials committee, “The Faculty has serious concerns about CPT Hasan ‘s professionalism and work ethic. . . . He demonstrates a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism.”23 Despite being the son of Palestinian immigrants, Hasan was assessed to have spoken Arabic poorly. We shouldn’t conclude that the Army needs less people of Hasan’s demographics, any more so than the cases of serial killers and prior Marines Charles Ng and Anthony Sowell would indicate that the Corps needs fewer Chinese or Blacks. With the U.S. military currently involved in Muslim nations on multiple continents, some of which speak predominately Arabic, our Services could benefit from more personnel who share Hasan’s demographic background. But apart from what, if anything, can be distilled from the Fort Hood travesty, first and foremost we should tolerate zero soldiers who exhibit MAJ Hasan’s attitudes, work ethic, or basic performance.

In an American University commencement speech, President Kennedy once said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”24 Kennedy was addressing the topics of peace and nuclear war, and announced the cessation of atmospheric nuclear tests, a commitment the United States has adhered to since 1963. But sectarian diversity advocates have assimilated the quote for their own objectives. Similarly, the discussion on diversity remains centered on demographic representation, at the expense of developing a diverse set of skills necessary to prevail in 21st century conflict. The Marine Corps needs to continue to focus on diversity programs that have an effect on the battlefield and report these successes to our civilian leadership as they continue to inquire about our diversity initiatives. If we cannot steer the national discussion toward increasing capability, at least we can make the Marine Corps safe for diversity.

Focus on methods for constructing diversity partnerships ana expanding the number of minority Officers. (Photo by SgtBryan McDonnall.)


1. Jelinek, Pauline, “Report Says Too Many Whites, Men Leading Military,” accessed at, 7 March 2011.

2. Department of Defense, From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century Military, Military Diversity Leadership Commission, Washington, DC, 15March2011.

3- “Misplaced Priorities” isa term diversity advocates are familiar with. This is the title the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gives to their report that “tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system.” More information is available at http://www.

4. Broad, William J., John Markoff, and David E. Sanger, “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay,” The New York Times, New York, 15 January 2011.

5. Rashid, Fahmida Y., “Sony PlayStation Network Data Breach Compromises 77 Million User Accounts,”, 26 April 2011.

6. Fleming, Bruce, “Guest Column: The Cost of a Diverse Naval Academy,”, 14 June 2009

7 De Vise, Daniel, “Naval Academy Professor Challenges Rising Diversity,” The Washington Post, Washington, DC, 3 July 2009.

8. Philpott, Tom, “Military Recruits High in Number, Quality,” Tacoma News Tribune, Seattle-Tacoma, WA, 16 October 2010.

9- Diversity Metrics Study, Operations Analysis Division, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, 12 October 2010.

10. Although less significant, the reverse was true for many southern states – particularly West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama – in that they had an above average percentage of citizens joining the military but below average graduation rates and qualifications.

11. McDermott, Jennifer, “Ethnicity, gender now factors in CGA admissions,”, 23 January 2011.

12. Fleming.

13- Available at htm.

14. Zakaria, Tabassum, “General Casey: diversity shouldn’t be a casualty of Fort Hood,”, 8 November 2009

15- Walsh, Michael A., “Military ‘Diversity*: More DC Silliness,” The New York Post, New York, 14 March 2011.

16. Krisinger, Chris J., “What Gates Didn’t Say on His Farewell Tour,” The Washington Times, Washington, DC, 23 March 2011.

17- Rose, Alexander, American Rifle, The Random House Publishing Group, 2008.

18. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve in the Korean Conflict, 1950-1951, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 1951, available at http://www. F_Files/ Pubs/Korea/MOBILIZATION%20OF%20 THE%20MARINE%20CORPS%20RESERVE%20IN%20KOREAN%2050-51%20 PCN% 2 01900 03 18700.pdf.

19. De Vise, “Maryland’s Towson University conquers ‘graduation gap’,” The Washington Post, Washington, DC, 12 December 2010.

20. Available at lists/2010/94/best-colleges-10_Towson-University_94406_ 2 .htm 1.

21. Webb, James, “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege,” The Wall Street Journal, New York, 22 July 2010.

22. Although GEN Abizaid is currently considered as relatively unsuccessful during his U.S. Central Command leadership, history will likely regard his legacy more favorably than his successor, ADM William J. Fallón, who resigned after less than 1 year in the post.

23. Zwerdling, Daniel, “Evaluation Raised Concerns about Maj. Hasan in ’07,” National Public Radio, 19 November 2009, available at php?storyID = 120562890.

24. Kennedy, John F., speech at American University, Washington, DC, 10 June 1963.