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News Release


Release No: 544-99
November 23, 1999


The Department of Defense made available today two studies concerning equal opportunity in America's active duty military. One study presents the results of a large-scale survey of the active duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The second study is an examination of the career progression of minority and women active duty officers in the military Services.

Addressing the Department's commitment to equal opportunity, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said: "The military Services are second to no other institution in providing equal opportunity for all members. We take great pride in the high standards that we have set. But we must also be vigilant and remain responsive if we hope to sustain and improve the environment in which our military members live and work. The bottom line is that every individual who joins America's military must have full confidence that he or she will be allowed to excel to the full extent of his or her abilities."

The "Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey" was initiated by then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Edwin Dorn with the concurrence and direction of Congress. The survey asked service members about their perceptions of personnel issues in the military and about military policies intended to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for all military members. It also asked about service members' experiences with other military personnel and Defense civilian employees and with civilians in the local community around their installation. The survey was mailed to 76,754 active duty enlisted members and officers selected by a random sampling method that took into account the complexity of a population that not only comprised different racial/ethnic groups, but was also differentiated by rank, Service, gender, and geographic location. The mailing resulted in a 53 percent rate of usable responses.

Survey responses were amassed from late 1996 to February 1997. The survey was the first of its kind. Because no survey of this magnitude and level of detail had previously been undertaken to assess service members' perceptions of and experiences with personnel and equal opportunity programs and procedures in relation to their race or ethnic heritage, the Department of Defense subjected the survey data to rigorous analyses over many months. The analyses were performed for five categories of respondents: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American/Alaskan Native. The lessons learned will allow more rapid analysis in the future.

Service members' responses generally affirmed the successes associated with the longstanding commitment of civilian and military leaders to equal opportunity in the armed forces:

Large majorities of service members in all groups believe that racial/ethnic relations today are as good or better than they were five years ago.

Service members perceived that there had been greater improvement in race and ethnic relations in the military than in civilian society and that opportunities and conditions were better in the military than as a civilian.

Only very small percentages of service members said "not at all" when asked if racial/ethnic relations were good at their installation or aboard ship.

Relatively small percentages of members in each racial/ethnic group said they experienced an incident of harassment or discrimination related to the military personnel life cycle.

Most service members reported that they had formed friendships and social bonds across lines of race and ethnicity and that they had done so much more frequently than they did before they entered military service.

At the same time, responses to the survey point to areas that must be considered as we work to ensure equal opportunity and fair treatment in the armed forces:

There are differences in the way service members of different races and ethnic groups perceived the state of equal opportunity. African American service members were more pessimistic about the degree of progress in equal opportunity in the nation than were members of other race or ethnic groups.

Many service members of all races and ethnic groups reported negative experiences they felt were based on their race or ethnicity. Service members reported having had such experiences on military installations and in surrounding communities.

Minority service members were more likely than Whites to report being unfairly punished. Some 9 percent of Blacks, 6 percent of Hispanics, 5 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, and 4 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders reported being unfairly punished in comparison to only 2 percent of Whites.

The complete 296-page "Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey," including an executive summary of the survey results, is available on the Internet at http://dod.mil/prhome.

Like the "Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey," the report entitled "Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers" affirms successes while pointing to areas that require continuing attention and effort. While the study addressed in part the perceptions of service members, its main thrust was to examine performance in providing equal opportunity in the military Services. The study determined that:

In the two decades from 1977 to 1997, representation of racial minorities and women among active duty commissioned officers more than doubled, from 7 percent to 15.3 percent for minority officers and from 5.9 percent to 14.1 percent for women officers. These patterns of increasing minority and female representation held for all four Services.

Even during the post-Cold War drawdown, representation of women officers increased, as well as the representation of Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities.

A number of Service programs to identify potential minority candidates and assist them in obtaining a commission appear to play a part in success demonstrated through minority accession figures. But minority members, and to a lesser extent women, may start their careers at a disadvantage because of pre-entry differences in academic achievement and lower representation in fields of study of most interest to the military.

Women and minorities tend to be concentrated in administrative and supply areas and underrepresented in tactical operations, the area that yields two-thirds of the general and flag officers of the Services. Women and minorities are very much underrepresented in some fields such as aviation, although the trend is upwards.

Compared to White men, promotion rates for White women are about the same. But promotion rates for Black men and women are lower through the critical O-4 point, then about the same thereafter. Factors contributing to the different promotion rates for minorities and women are educational/precommissioning preparation, initial assignments contributing to a "slow start," and limited access to peer and mentor networks

Some Black officers felt they have more difficulty building competitive performance records for review by promotion boards. However, nearly all officers believed promotion boards are fair, given the information presented. In addition:

Some minority and female members believed they are held to a higher standard than majority race/male colleagues and, especially women, felt they must pass "tests" to demonstrate their worth on the job.

Officers who felt they had been discriminated against generally believed that the act was committed by an individual rather than the military institution.

Many women and minority officers felt that, overall, they had been treated fairly and that the equal opportunity climate was not better, and probably worse, in the private sector.

The complete 109-page report, "Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers," is available on the Internet at http://dod.mil/prhome.

These studies demonstrate that the Department of Defense and the armed forces are clearly dedicated to providing equal opportunity to all uniformed members. The results of the "Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey" and the "Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers" study will serve as important guides as the Department and the armed forces build upon equal opportunity policies and practices that promote cohesion, high performance, best use of human resources, and unit success. The Deputy Secretary of Defense will host a meeting of the Defense Equal Opportunity Council in the near future to review the survey results with the Department's senior leadership.

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