WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor blasting the increasing focus on woke policies at the Department of Defense.
The Mississippi senator emphasized the need for the military to focus on deterrence and readiness, while noting that policies related to divisive race and gender ideology only serve to undermine unit cohesion.
“The ideas propagandized by the bureaucrats and so-called diversity officers within our military are painting a false picture of reality,” Wicker said. “In addition, they clearly run afoul of America’s founding principles and our country’s dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal. The mission of the U.S. military is to deter real wars, and win them if necessary, not to wage culture wars within the ranks.”
Wicker also identified the emergence of this issue at the service academies for the United States military, where abundant programming related to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” has begun to overshadow the need to preserve a warfighting ethos.
“Across the service academies, students can now find indoctrination courses on, and I quote, ‘the social and physical constructs of race, gender, and ethnicity in the context of social inequality in America,’” Wicker said. “And at every service academy, one can now find ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programming listed for students. The examples of what this does to the military would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous.”
The Mississippi senator concluded by an extending call to collaborate with any lawmaker interested in solving the recruitment crisis and steering the military away from politics.
“Rather than fighting culture wars at the Pentagon, our focus should turn to doing everything in our power to expand the population eligible and qualified for military service,” Wicker said. “I will partner with any other Member of Congress who wants to achieve this goal.”
Read the full speech below as delivered or watch it here.
Thank you Mr. President. Our nation is once again in an age of great power conflict. It’s a dangerous time for this country, for our military, and for our citizens. The mission of the U.S. military is to deter, and if necessary, win real wars, not engage in culture wars. And so I rise this afternoon to say that this Administration’s current diversity, equity, and inclusion program is not only unnecessary, but harmful, to our military and to our national security.
But first, let me do a quick history lesson. Eighty years ago, our country was pitted against fascist foes from three continents. Our “greatest generation,” my father among them, answered the call to arms and defended the world from an evil autocrat. Back then, the military was not what it should be. Our ranks were segregated. But a group of fearless African-American airmen challenged the conscience of the military and the nation and paved the road to change.
In early 1943, the Tuskegee Airmen were making the final preparations to deploy to North Africa, and later to Italy, to take on the Axis war machine. They made history as the first African-American combat pilots, and they served with honor and distinction. Their actions are now the stuff of popular film and literature, and they are a cornerstone of American culture.
But the valor of the Tuskegee Airmen did not just appear overnight. John C. Robinson, a native son of my home state of Mississippi, spent a decade laying the groundwork for the Airmen’s future heroism. Born to a Pullman porter, Robinson completed tenth grade but was barred from further education. He could afford only a wagon ride on his first trip to the Tuskegee Institute, where he would learn the engineering trades hundreds of miles away from home. He persevered after facing several rejections from America’s leading aviation school, and eventually, he worked as a janitor by day and studied aviation by night, graduating at the top of his class with flying colors.
When Mussolini’s brigades of Italian fascists invaded Ethiopia, Robinson jumped into the breach. He led the air campaign in one of the first salvos of World War II. His story would become well known to Americans in the newspapers and on the radio waves, and he inspired a generation as one the first black combat pilots. As one historian put it, it was solely because of Robinson’s contributions that the Tuskegee program became popular with the army.
Only in America could the son of a Mississippi porter who was denied a college education because of the color of his skin become one of the finest aviators his country ever saw, in a moment when we needed him most. This is who we are. This is what our servicemen and women sign up to defend every day.
Today, as then, we live in an age of great power conflict. Today, as then, we face hate-filled autocrats who seek to dominate. These foes present the American people with a test, and the Tuskegee Airmen’s story reminds us that we can pass that test. The Tuskegee Airmen knew the principles of the United States – liberty and justice for all – though not fully achieved, were worth fighting for at home and abroad
Because of their courage, along with the leadership of our government, their focus on the core mission of the United States military – to defend us in war – led to the defeat of fascism in Europe. But it also changed our troops. The Tuskegee Airmen’s heroism challenged the conscience of the armed forces and the country. They paved the way for a transformation. The U.S military today is the largest, most diverse engine of social mobility in this country. The U.S. military is the most successful civil rights program in the world. The fact is, American soldiers from all backgrounds are now promoted on the basis of their character, commitment, ability, and courage. The treatment dreamed of by the Tuskegee Airmen has become a reality! That is why it is so mystifying, even disturbing, to see the current diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
If you look at the policies of the Department of Defense, you would be forgiven for thinking our forces are today serving under a cloud of segregation and extremism.
The truth is, the military now represents the best of our society and has consistently advanced the cause of equal rights – even before the rest of the country was ready to take that pivotal step. The military took that step. Now, Commander-in-Chief President Biden still has the most important job that the Commander-in-Chief has ever had, and that is leading our military in defense of the United States. But his Administration is making that job harder every day by focusing on left-wing social issues.
In the wake of a disastrous retreat from Afghanistan and increasingly hostile behavior from China and Russia, the President should be prioritizing military readiness. Instead, he had decided, inexplicably, to spend his first two years in office focusing on something else – on shaping the Department of Defense into an institution that is spearheading toxic social policies instead of focusing on military strength. This agenda has harmed military readiness and alienated a large portion of potential military recruits.
The ideas propagandized by the bureaucrats and so-called diversity officers within our military are painting a false picture of reality. In addition, they clearly run afoul of America’s founding principles and our country’s dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal
The mission of the U.S. military is to deter real wars, and win them if necessary, not to wage culture wars within the ranks.
But there are numerous examples of how this Administration has made it a top priority to push progressive social policies on the military, and it is undermining the effectiveness of our national defense.
Within the first six months of the Biden Administration, Pentagon civilian leadership demanded the creation of a powerful, new “diversity, equity, and inclusion” bureaucracy focused on everything but readiness. Right before the 2022 midterms, the Secretary of Defense released a memo warning, with no evidence whatsoever, that the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion would negatively impact readiness and recruiting. With no evidence whatsoever that this is true.
Mr. President, every dollar we spend on defense should have a clear connection to enhancing military effectiveness and lethality. My colleague Senator Joni Ernst, herself a veteran, has been especially clear-eyed on this topic, proposing legislation blocking the use of taxpayer dollars to fund specious efforts related to abortion at the Department of Defense. I agree. And I am glad to join her in this effort.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has a duty to conduct careful oversight and analysis of the Department of Defense. Today’s woke social issue agenda does not improve military effectiveness or lethality. And that’s why my colleague Senator Tom Cotton and House Member Dan Bishop are introducing new legislation to stop the use of Critical Race Theory in the Department of Defense, including our service academies. It will take strong support for efforts like these to root out toxic ideas, but we must begin to do it now.
Misguided efforts, from bureaucrats and political appointees alike, to inject domestic social issues into defense policy will harm our military’s ability to perform its mission.
It pains me to say this, but public confidence in our services is low and shrinking. The Reagan Institute reports that fewer than half of Americans have trust in the military, down from over 70 percent a few years ago.
Largely because of the President’s decision to advance his liberal ideology on our armed services, the military now faces the biggest challenge to recruiting in the history of the modern all-volunteer force. By the end of this year, the Army will likely be more than 30,000 soldiers smaller than it was the day President Biden took the oath of office. The Navy is actively recruiting thousands of people who are normally barred from military service because the Navy recruiters cannot find enough qualified recruits to man our growing fleet.
Recruiting is an essential element of military readiness. Hardware is important to be sure, but if our best and brightest are discouraged from putting on a uniform, we cannot hope to field a ready force.
Addressing this problem starts with addressing how we shape our future leaders. Our four military service academies share a commitment to excellence and boast an impressive track record of molding the officers who will lead the branches of our armed forces. And I’m delighted to help so many young Mississippians gain admission to our academies. But sadly, in recent years, even our academies have not been immune to the same spread of a toxic race- and gender-infused agenda that has inflamed so many college campuses across the nation.
Across the service academies, students can now find indoctrination courses on, and I quote, “the social and physical constructs of race, gender, and ethnicity in the context of social inequality in America.” And at every service academy, one can now find “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programming listed for students.
The examples of what this does to the military would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. This past September, the Air Force Academy actually instructed cadets that the words “mom” and “dad” might not be inclusive enough. In a less amusing part of the same briefing, cadets were told to avoid the phrase “colorblind.” This is happening at our nation’s elite service academies, not at the faculty lounge at Berkeley, and it is ridiculous.
Many raise concerns about extremism in the military. Yet, after a military-wide “stand-down” to focus on extremism in the ranks, we found out “fewer than 100” - fewer than 100 persons out of a military of 1.2 million active-duty service members - had engaged in extremist activity. General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later revealed that, between the stand-down day and new “diversity, equity, and inclusion” training requirements levied by the Biden Administration, the Department of Defense has spent nearly 5.9 million man-hours on the issue of extremism. That represents over 64,000 hours for each confirmed case of extremism last year.
To the extent there is extremism in the military, and it is rare, it’s a problem we can work together on a bipartisan basis to solve, as Senator Dan Sullivan has repeatedly discussed, and I appreciate his leadership. But, again I say, it is extremely rare in the U.S. military.
In fact, many of the attempts to root out extremism have unintended consequences, including convincing potential recruits that they’re not welcome in the military. These efforts have also punished Americans with earnest and deeply-held beliefs, people that share the same beliefs as I do, people who want to serve in the military. For example, as part of the “extremism stand down day,” the Navy issued training materials to sailors stating explicitly that conservative views of “marriage, abortion, and LGBTQ rights” are “not considered mainstream.” Not considered mainstream. The United States Navy should not sideline traditional religious and moral views by declaring them out of step with the times.
Let me be clear. I hold sincere convictions about the sanctity of all human life: I may be in the majority in some states and I may be in the minority in others, but I am entitled to my views and our Department of Defense has no business characterizing them as outside the mainstream.
One thing that is not mainstream is the Pentagon’s unrelenting focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past two years. The U.S. military is the largest and most diverse public institution in the country. For decades, it has been an engine of economic and social mobility and a place for Americans of all stripes to come together in support of a common mission. From the youngest private to the most senior general, our military is composed of Americans from every possible background you can imagine. We should celebrate that fact.
Sadly, this is not the operating mentality of the leadership at today’s Pentagon. The Department of the Defense’s new “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan” aims to, and I quote, “ensure equitable career progression for military personnel by eliminating promotion and retention barriers.”
Mr. President, by adding “equity,” rather than equal opportunity, to the military promotion process, the Biden Administration is judging the selection of military leaders not on the content of their character, but on whether or not an individual happens to be a member of one demographic group or another.
Simply put, this amounts to quotas over merit.
This equity approach to promotions and assignments takes a sledgehammer to the foundation of the military. And worse, it creates divisions that put our men and women in uniform at risk. It pits them against each other based on factors they cannot control.
More than any other public institution, our military represents the broadest picture of American society. That is as it should be – it is not “systemic racism.” As one senior member of the Defense Department said, this rhetoric draws the ridicule of our enemies. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the agents of the Kremlin have shown no hesitation in ridiculing the language of woke bureaucrats.
Rather than fighting culture wars at the Pentagon, our focus should turn to doing everything in our power to expand the population eligible and qualified for military service. I will partner with any other Member of Congress who wants to achieve this goal.
Thank you Mr. President.