The service chiefs for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard pushed back Wednesday on the assertion that the armed services are “increasingly woke and more concerned about social issues than warfighting.’’
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz were asked that question by Robert Work, a former deputy defense secretary and moderator for the virtual panel at the annual West naval conference.
The comments are the latest in a string of top military officials defending policies aimed at making the military more inclusive and combating extremism in the ranks.
Read Next: The 'Forever Wars' Continue on America's Most Famous War Memorial. When Will They End?
“I think it's an assertion that isn't really grounded on facts,” Gilday said. “We know that there's strength in diversity; that is a scientifically proven fact.’’
Gilday explained that he saw his efforts to harness and address diversity within the Navy as a way to build a stronger force.
“We know that esprit de corps within particularly our small units or ships, as an example, is an incredibly important part of combat effectiveness,” Gilday said.
A Defense Department report on diversity in December 2020 noted that, across all branches, officers were less diverse than the eligible civilian population -- with Blacks, Hispanics and Asians all being underrepresented.
“Notably, the officer corps is significantly less racially and ethnically diverse than the enlisted population,” the report said.
Among the enlisted, Blacks, Hispanics, and people of multiracial origins are overrepresented in the active-duty numbers while white people are significantly less represented.
This is not the first time Gilday has defended his methods on diversity within the Navy. On June 15, Gilday faced pointed questions from Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., during a House Armed Services Committee hearing over his inclusion of Ibram X. Kendi’s “How To Be An Antiracist” on his reading list.
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” Gilday said in response to Banks’ questions. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy as weak, as woke.
“We are not weak. We are strong.’’
Berger echoed the sentiments of Gilday on Wednesday and also alluded to remarks made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley at a congressional hearing last week.
“There's some places on Earth, maybe more than a handful, where you're not allowed to read books. … You're only allowed to read this, and you're only allowed to espouse that,” Berger said.
“The great part about Americans -- it's not run that way.’’
In a heated exchange with Republican lawmakers recently, Milley argued that service members need to be widely read on the different ideas and theories circulating in American society.
“We want our service members to read widely,” Berger explained. “We want them to actually think, not be programmed, not be told, ‘You must agree with this.’”
Berger and Schultz also noted that diversity and acceptance are key to the armed forces since their recruits are drawn from a “free thinking society.”
“For us in the Coast Guard, it's a strategic imperative that we look more like the nation we serve,” Schultz said.
These remarks come amid a chorus of conservative lawmakers and commentators who have been decrying DoD programs and efforts aimed at improving diversity and inclusion, accommodating women, or to root out extremists in the ranks. These criticisms often have been framed as political correctness or “wokeness” run amok.
In May, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a former Navy SEAL, launched a webpage inviting service members to blow the whistle anonymously on "woke ideology" in the military.
In March, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson claimed that updated hair regulations and new maternity uniforms for female troops are making "a mockery of the U.S. military."
Many programs that have come under attack are aimed at closing gaps in representation, especially among officers and specific communities. Last September, the Air Force announced new recruiting targets that hope to address, among other things, the stark lack of diversity among its pilots.
According to the Air Force, about 86% of its aviators are currently white men.
In June, the leader of the Navy SEALs announced that they were developing programs to more actively recruit from more diverse regions of the country.
As of March 2021, a full 95% of all SEAL and combatant-craft crew (SWCC) officers were white and just 2% were Black, according to Naval Special Warfare statistics provided to the AP. The officers corps of Army Special Forces is 87% white, and also 2% Black.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
Related: Military Leaders Fire Back at Lawmakers as Critical Race Theory Debate Erupts on Capitol Hill