DOD Reflects on 40 Years of Diversity Training
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2011 It’s been 40 years since the military began training troops to accept each others’ differences and get along. And if anyone questions the value of diversity training, they need only to consider how much things have changed since it began, the director of the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute says.
“When we started in the ’70s, the armed forces were faced with behaviors that really were drastic in nature,” Ronald M. Joe told American Forces Press Service in a Nov. 28 interview. “We had folks who were fighting each other. There were race riots, and physical violence in the armed forces, with one service member against another.”
The institute was created in 1971 as the Defense Race Relations Institute to quell the tensions. DOD officials thought their mission would be accomplished in three years, Joe said. “But because we deal with human beings, because we are dealing with a microcosm of the United States, … we are constantly having to train folks to be able to get along with one another … and valuing our differences and how they aid us in accomplishing our missions,” he said.
As the institute has continued to evolve, Joe said, more focus has been placed on removing barriers, understanding command climate and developing strategies to enhance workplace performance. Equal opportunity professionals help unit commanders appreciate the different perspectives each soldier, sailor, airman and Marine brings to the organization and how to leverage that talent to achieve the missions at hand. DEOMI, as it is known, has graduated more than 40,000 military and civilian students.
When the institute observes its 40th anniversary during its 8th biennial research symposium Dec. 6-8, more than 400 people are expected at its Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., campus to learn about the latest research and take part in panel discussions about diversity, inclusion, equity and cultural competence, Joe said.
For Joe and the other DEOMI professionals, their work is all about mission readiness.
“I like to refer to DEOMI as a national treasure,” he said. “I think this is the only organization in the DOD that does what it does, and probably the only one in the world. Our mission is all about readiness.”
Since its establishment DEOMI has moved beyond just keeping the peace, Joe said, to breaking down institutional barriers to advancement and drafting policies to promote equal opportunity, inclusion and value for cross-cultural competencies such as foreign language and cultural skills.
As the institute changes with the times, he said, it must stay true to its roots. The military has proven itself a model for inclusion and equal opportunity, he added, and must continue to do so.
“Our armed forces have been a real leader in showing how people can work together and live together regardless of differences,” Joe said.
“There has been great deal of progress,” he added. “People in our armed forces are much more caring about each other, and much more focused on the mission” than in the institute’s early days.