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Hicks: Every Qualified American Is Welcome at Recruiting Stations

As part of a Pride Month commemorative event today at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks noted that now, more than ever before, anyone who is qualified to serve in America's military is welcome to apply. And, that everybody is also needed.

A woman speaks from behind a lectern.
Kathleen H. Hicks
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks provides remarks at the 13th Annual LGBTQ Pride ceremony at the Pentagon, June 5, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 240605-D-XI929-1010

"Maintaining a world-class force made up entirely of volunteers requires us to reach across the breadth of talent this country offers," Hicks told an audience gathered in the Pentagon courtyard. "That's true both because it yields the most capable military, and because our republic rests on the principle that a military should reflect the society it is called to defend. Every qualified American who desires to serve and will uphold their oath of office is welcome at our recruiting stations." 

In the past decades, she said, progress has been made to ensure that those who want to serve can do so. Efforts include, she said, President Truman signing the executive order to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948, the decision to allow women to serve in combat roles in 2013 and the end of the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2011. 

"Each of these steps has only made us stronger and more effective," Hicks said. "No one today would seriously question the dominance of the military that we have built or trade it for any other in the world." 

Taking care of its people is a top priority of the department, Hicks said, and that includes ensuring all service members have the tools and resources they and their families need to thrive.

"It means improving quality of service and quality of life," she said. "And it means we're working to ensure fairness and equality so that everyone has the means to reach their full potential. There is a stark difference between being allowed to exist in a space and being fully accepted and included there." 

Good examples of that, Hicks said, are DOD efforts in recent years to expand to service members' protections that ensure department policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or an individual's identification as transgender. 

And following the 12th anniversary of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in September 2023, she said, the department embarked on a new effort to review military records of veterans discharged with an administrative separation that was the result of their sexual orientation, and who received a less than honorable conditions discharge. Those reviews will assess records to determine if an upgrade in discharge may be warranted. 

"It's our hope that this effort begins to restore some measure of dignity to those veterans who served honorably but received a less than fully honorable discharge under the policy," she said. 

Also in the last two years, Hicks said, the department has introduced military justice reforms, including those that better respond to sexual assault and related crimes.

"All of these actions together strengthen trust among our ranks and with the society we defend," she said. "Trust is core to our military. Our service members must trust that their colleagues will have their backs, that they will protect one another from harm, and that their colleagues and commanders will not undermine or manipulate that trust." 

Hicks said the DOD is committed to expanding opportunities for all those who serve, as a civilian or in uniform. 

"It's our job to create those pathways and ensure that they not only remain open but are broadened," Hicks said. "That's a charge we take seriously. And during this Pride Month, we commit ourselves to fulfilling that promise."

A man speaks from behind a lectern.
Ashish Vazirani
Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Ashish Vazirani provides remarks at the 13th Annual LGBTQ Pride Ceremony at the Pentagon, June 5, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 240605-D-XI929-1015

Ashish S. Vazirani, who is now performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said diversity and inclusion come as a result of finding the best the nation has to offer, and that talent isn't determined by things like sexual orientation or gender identity. 

"We need to recruit from the breadth and depth of our nation to find talented people like you with the skills, determination, perseverance and passion to serve our country," he said. "When you hear department leaders talk about the need for a diverse and inclusive workplace, it's about our need to recruit and retain the best talent America has to offer. Diversity is an outcome for the search for the best and brightest talent from our increasingly diverse nation." 

With a talented workforce in place, he said, it's important also to ensure that workforce is recognized, retained and promoted, as well as the department creates and maintains an environment where everyone is treated with dignity, respect and allowed to excel. 

"This month, we express in one voice, pride in all who serve, a place for all, a powerful message that reinforces the department's commitment to dignity, respect, civility and compassion for all those who are members of our DOD family," he said. "A total force with a diversity of thought and experience adds to America's strength. [And] building a place for all means building a place for each and every member of our community to share a true sense of belonging that allows them to flourish. There is a place for you here."

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