Top Enlisted Sailor Urges Continued Progress in Diversity
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 31, 2008 Though 60 years have passed since an executive order ended segregation in the U.S. military, today’s servicemembers still have work to do to make the most of diversity in the ranks, the Navy’s top enlisted sailor said.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe R. Campa Jr. said the military has come a long way since it officially was integrated. In 1948, providing equal opportunities was a step in the right direction, he said, but moving forward today means understanding the differences of cultures represented in the military.
“The most successful leaders in our Navy understand the strength and weaknesses of the people they lead,” said Campa, a Hispanic-American from Southern California, “but in order to fully understand them, we need to understand their background and where they came from and their values.”
Servicemembers come into the military from all walks of life, with values, morals and cultural norms shaped by their race or nationality. Recognizing and accepting those characteristics are key factors in mentoring and leadership development, Campa said.
“Everyone brings with them a piece of who they are,” he said. “If you don’t understand that, you’re not going to be able to help that young man or woman realize the full value of their potential.”
Campa said the military has come a long way since he enlisted in 1980. When he joined, he was one of 5,000 Hispanics in a half-million-strong force, he said, and his experience in boot camp was somewhat lonely because he didn’t identify with many of the other recruits.
Today, more than 50,000 Hispanics serve in the Navy. Other ethnic groups are growing throughout the military too, which Campa credited not only to recruitment and opportunity but also to the prospects of equality among the ranks.
“We can recruit and offer opportunity, but we’re not going to be able to keep [servicemembers] unless we can appreciate and value who they are,” he said. “You don’t have to sacrifice your culture to be part of [the military], and you don’t have to sacrifice your cultural identity to be an American, either.”
Campa said the military’s diversity improves its operations and enables the United States to foster better relationships across the globe. Diversity is a force multiplier as servicemembers interact and work with people in other countries and cultures, he said.
“We’ve come a long way as a nation, and we’ve come a long way as a military in preserving that language and richness of culture [are] very important as we operate with other countries and reach out across the world,” he said. “If we don’t have that, we put ourselves at a disadvantage.”