GUEST COLUMN: DEI initiatives distract from readiness efforts

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2023

By U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker | Guest Columnist

The U.S. military is the most successful civil rights program in history, with a relentless focus on excellence that makes it the world’s most elite fighting force.

These twin characteristics have made the U.S. military a place in which Americans from countless walks of life are equally able to advance. Unfortunately, the current crop of bureaucrats at the Pentagon do not talk about it that way. Instead, they have made misguided diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives a priority. At best, it is a distraction. At worst, it is a dangerous dereliction of duty.

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In response, I recently introduced the Merit Act, legislation that would keep the Department of Defense from prioritizing demographics above accomplishment. My bill would promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome, and make the Pentagon focus on deterrence rather than division.

The purpose of the Department of Defense is to prevent — and, if necessary, win — real wars, not fight culture wars. Other militaries know this. China’s Navy and Air Force have increasingly engaged in hostile acts against American warships and aircraft. North Korea is growing its nuclear arsenal, and Iran is moving closer to a nuclear weapon. If there was ever a time for a laser focus on readiness, it is now.

For the first time in the history of our all-volunteer force, we are consistently missing recruiting goals. Admittedly, the problem is complex. But at least one cause is clear. Service members see the military changing for the worse. A recent survey found nearly seven in 10 active members believe the armed forces are being politicized and that this would affect whether they encourage their children to enlist. That is a particularly bad sign since such a high rate of recruits come from families with a history of service.

If you look at the latest policies of President Biden’s Pentagon, you might assume today’s front line is the fight for social justice. For instance, news outlets recently published emails of the U.S. Navy’s social media team. In these messages, they admit to prioritizing Pride Month posts over the concerns of the Navy’s recruiting department. The people of Mississippi also got a front-row seat to the latest efforts to drag social issues into the military. President Biden’s officials cleared the way for staff at the Biloxi National Cemetery to replace an American flag with the LGBT “Pride” flag for the month of June. I led a letter to the VA Secretary demanding that he reinstate the American flag, noting that, “cemeteries should be places for reflection and respect, not public virtue signaling.”

Worse still, focusing on these social issues erodes the armed forces’ culture of merit-based promotion. Some on the left would like to make demographic factors, including race, a permanent part of a candidate’s evaluation for a role. This is unjust and will pit service members against each other based on factors no one can control.

My legislation is designed to fight against that misguided movement. The military attracts men and women eager to take on challenging, but meaningful, work. These individuals want to climb the ranks based on their ability, and the Pentagon’s policies should tap into that drive. The Merit Act would shift the focus away from wokeness and toward service.

I hope this and other initiatives will protect the culture of personal achievement that helps make military service such a badge of honor. During these dangerous times, our enemies and our friends should know the U.S. military elevates its leaders based on their skill, not social quotas.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker has served as the senior senator for Mississippi since 2007.