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Esper Thanks Diversity, Inclusion Board for Tackling Tough Subjects

July 15, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

At its first meeting today, the Defense Department's Board on Diversity and Inclusion pledged to rid the department of systemic discrimination.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper chartered the board in response to the larger, national conversation on racism and diversity.

Two men wearing face masks, one dressed in a business suit and one dressed in a military uniform, talk in a small office next to a window overlooking the countryside.
Esper Discussion
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks with Air Force Col. S. Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, during a visit to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, June 25, 2020. Esper met with the U.S. Air Force’s 100th Air Refueling Wing, 352nd Special Operations Wing; the Royal Air Force; and tenant unit leadership to learn about missions and discuss the base’s role in operations in the European and African theaters.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Benjamin Cooper
VIRIN: 200625-F-IZ785-0009C

Esper said George Floyd's death personally served as a reminder of the racial injustice, bias and prejudice that continues to afflict the United States. "We must continue to do our best to recognize this, to confront it, and to eradicate prejudice and bias and discrimination, because we know we are a reflection of the society that we come from and that we have sworn an oath to protect and defend," he told the board just after signing their charter. 

The board will meet every other week and is chaired by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.

Man speaks to airmen  at lunch.
Lunch Chat
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks during a lunch with airmen at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, June 25, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Esau
VIRIN: 200625-F-QO224-1055C

The board's charter looks to smash systemic racism and discrimination in any form. "Diversity is more than tolerance," Barrett said. "Genuine diversity generates acceptance. This board's mandate is to move forward with alacrity and positively transform the Defense Department for today's service members and for generations to come."

The board seeks to inculcate a culture of inclusivity.

In addition to Barrett, the board includes Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón "CZ" Colón-López, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan, as well as officer and enlisted personnel of the services. The SEAC has joined Esper on a number of trips in the United States to begin the conversation in the force on diversity and inclusion. 

Sailors in firefighting gear wield hoses.
Recruit Observation
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper observes recruits conducting hose team training at the Navy’s Great Lakes training base in Illinois, June 17, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer Byron C. Linder
VIRIN: 200617-N-ZW825-0437C

"We had very good discussions — very tough, very candid discussions," Esper said. "The SEAC and I have learned a number of things. One of the things is we don't have a toolkit, a lexicon by which we discuss issues of race and prejudice and bias. It's very uncomfortable to even begin the discussion." Yet the conversations have begun, and will continue, he said.

"This is very important, very historic, it's a chance for us to make a monumental … and lasting change in … how we deal with one another, how we treat one another, how we address diversity and inclusion, how we deal with race and bias and prejudice," Esper said. "At the end of the day, it's all about building a more cohesive, a more ready and more capable force in defense of our constitution and our fellow Americans."