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Service Members Want Discussions on Race, Diversity, Inclusion

Aug. 31, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

In meetings with Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, service members in the Pacific said they want serious discussions about race, diversity and inclusion and want the military to confront racism and address conscious prejudice and institutional bias.

On every trip, the secretary makes time to speak with service members. Some of his talks include all hands and are on the record. Other talks are private and the secretary speaks in generalities about what he hears from service members.

During this trip he spoke to an all-hands gathering aboard the USS Essex and with a small number of crew members on the ship. He spoke with Marines, a SeaBee civic action team in Palau, and with airmen at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. He will have more opportunities in Hawaii.

A man standing in front of a large U.S. flag speaks to a group of people who are socially distanced.
Troop Talk
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to service members aboard the USS Essex in Hawaiian waters.
Photo By: Jim Garamone, DOD
VIRIN: 200830-D-FN314-002

''Most of my conversation was with the troops … talking, diversity, inclusion, and … on that particular topic, what they tell me is … any type of bias that they experienced has been mostly on unconscious bias,'' he said. 

But there is also conscious bias, and the service members discussed the need for understanding and education with Esper.

''I see a continuity in terms of their feedback, and ways to address bias in the ranks,'' he said. ''They all shared that there's a [discomfort] about discussing these issues, issues of race.''

They want more conversations. ''I don't believe anybody thinks there's a silver bullet,'' he said. ''They certainly want there to be more discussions, or would welcome more discussion — and less formalized discussion, more organic discussion.''

Service members do not want another PowerPoint presentation on equal opportunity, but an actual discussion seeking empathy and understanding.

''I come away encouraged,'' Esper said. He said service members have told him that, generally, their treatment within the military is different from that on the outside.