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Institute Continues Quest for Equal Opportunity in DoD

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., March 25, 1999, March 25, 1999 – The equal opportunity environment has certainly gotten better since racial strife during the 1960s rocked ships at sea and military bases at home and overseas. But that doesn't mean there aren't any problems, said the commandant of the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

"Compared to what it was like 30 years ago, I'd give DoD a 'B'," Col. Jose Bolton Sr. said. "We've made quantum leaps from that time."

Bolton bases his grade on how the military dealt with racial strife at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1995, and sexual assault and harassment cases at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in 1997. Those events exposed social problems that still exist in the military today, but they also showed that the legal system in place was equipped to deal with such problems, Bolton said.

"We had processes in place," he said. "More importantly, people who raised those issues were heard. The system heard them."

In the Bragg case, two white soldiers were convicted of murdering two black civilians near the post; a third was convicted of conspiracy for driving the killers to the murder site. Investigations revealed the three had openly espoused and demonstrated long-standing extremist racial views. That they got away with those attitudes and behavior for so long bothers Bolton and others at the institute. It's evidence, he said, that racist attitudes haven't disappeared and that DoD must continue molding better racial and gender relations within the ranks.

The North Carolina murders sparked a three-month-long Army review of extremism in the ranks and a DoD statement that holding or exercising extremist views is intolerable and punishable.

Today, extremism, the presence of youth gangs and the growing diversity of the military population keep institute classes here and on the road filled. Students include senior commanders and executive-level civilians, senior enlisted advisers, and equal opportunity and equal employment opportunity counselors from active duty and Reserve component organizations across DoD.

The curriculum is based on the needs of the services. "Our focus today is much, much broader than anyone envisioned in the 1960s," Bolton said. "While the initial focus was on resolving racial problems, the program expanded in the early 1970s to gender issues, in the 1980s to multiracial issues and further gender issues. Today, extremism, disability and religious accommodation are integral to both our equal opportunity and equal employment opportunity training."

The equal opportunity climate of any organization or installation starts with leadership, Bolton said. Besides providing senior officers and civilians direct training through special seminars, the institute provides certification training for all DoD equal opportunity and equal employment advisers, he said.

But commanders also must be willing to enforce equal opportunity policies. "This isn't something you stick on the bulletin board and forget," Bolton said.

The services seem to be paying attention. "Because of what is happening in the military environment -- incidents such as the Navy's Tailhook [sexual harassment case several years ago] and Aberdeen, the services want competent advisers," said Air Force Lt. Col. Theresa Morris, academics director. "So they are sending us their cream of the crop -- enlisted people with bachelor's degrees, officers with advanced degrees."

And they're not just enrolling minorities in the adviser education courses, Morris said. Classes and staff are a mix of whites, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, and of men and women. "We're starting to see a student population that reflects the diversity of society in the military," she said.

The 15-week Equal Opportunity Advisor Course is the institute's cornerstone program. More than 300 students graduate each year after instruction designed to improve leadership and communication skills and to build an understanding of cultural and unit cohesion factors. They also learn their individual service's equal opportunity policies and programs.

The training they receive is challenging and, in many cases, life changing. From Day 1 of each course, instructors stress the need for open communication and sincere, deep reflection. Before advisers can begin to solve their command's problems, they need to understand their own motivations and prejudices.

This kind of classroom openness, particular among mixed ranks, requires a climate of trust, Bolton said. Lower-ranking students, for example, need to be able to challenge the assumptions and positions taken by more senior class members.

Small-group interaction is at the heart of the training, and staff facilitators also need time to learn what motivates each group. "This doesn't happen overnight or in a couple of weeks," Bolton said, "and student progress differs from group to group."

Faculty and staff come from all service branches. Nearly all noncommissioned officer instructors have at least one, usually more field tours of duty behind them, as do many of the officer instructors, who are typically O-3s -- captains or Navy lieutenants. The services first send prospective faculty members to instructor schools, then the institute provides further training before they begin teaching and facilitating. Depending on their services' assignment policies, faculty members remain at the institute up to three years.

Besides the senior leaders' orientations and adviser course, the institute offers these other courses:

  • Equal Opportunity Program Managers Course (six weeks), teaching leadership skills and action strategies;

  • Senior Enlisted Equal Opportunity Workshop (one week) for senior enlisted advisers, command sergeants major, command master and senior chiefs and first sergeants. The workshop examines current and potential equal opportunity problems that could impact mission readiness;

  • Equal Opportunity Advisor Reserve Components Course (two resident phases of two weeks each and one nonresident correspondence phase), which parallels the Equal Opportunity Advisor Course but with flexible scheduling to accommodate reservists' and their commanders' needs;

  • Civilian Equal Employment Opportunity Courses. Available are two-week resident courses per year for EEO counselors, entry- level EEO specialists and EEO officers; one-week nonresident courses for collateral duty (part-time) EEO counselors and special emphasis program managers; and a four-day Mediation Course and a version of the senior executive EO seminars for managers who supervise primarily civilian work forces.

Traveling teams take workshops to the services and conduct senior executive seminars for all new rear admirals, brigadier generals and Senior Executive Service counterparts.

More information about the institute and its programs is available on the Internet at www.pafb.af.mil/deomi/deomi.htm. Or, call the public affairs office at (407) 494-2853/6208 or DSN 854-2853/6208. Persons interested in joining the faculty or enrolling in a course should also go through their military or civilian personnel offices for assistance.

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