Sen. Roger Wicker denied at a hearing Wednesday that discrimination is a problem in the military after service leaders relied on a study that found fears of discrimination factored into young people’s hesitance to serve.
The Army conducted a survey of more than 2,000 individuals from the ages of 16 to 28 in the summer of 2022 aimed at uprooting the main reasons only 9% of young people express interest in military service, a historic low, according to The Associated Press.
Officials from the Army, Navy and Air Force referenced that survey to justify Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts in the military, as among the most common responses at 13% was that the Army discriminates against women and racial or ethnic minorities.
“That’s just not true,” Wicker, the leading Republican on the committee, said, arguing that military service tends overall to improve lives of servicemembers, “especially” those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
DOD “must put at least as much effort into solving the recruiting crisis as it has into other initiatives, like extremism, diversity, equity, inclusion and abortion,” Wicker said.
The Army released only select data points from the 2022 recruiting survey. More than one in five respondents said they believed military service would require them to put their lives “on hold,” while just 5% cited military “wokeness” as a significant consideration in their propensity to serve.
Committees were provided a summary of the survey but not the full study and methodology because the underlying data is subject to additional privacy considerations, Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo told Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Camarillo said he had no data conducted outside of the Army on factors exacerbating the recruiting crisis.
Navy under secretary Erik Raven referred to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s comments to Defense One days before that he has seen “zero evidence” DEI initiatives are degrading the Marine Corps’ warfighting abilities. Sailors and Marines stand ready to fight, Raven added.
The Air Force has conducted several internal surveys to uncover potential barriers to retention, acting Air Force Under Secretary Kristyn Jones told senators, but she did not mention any separate efforts targeted at potential recruits.
“I don’t think it’s possible to achieve equity,” Jones said.
A strong labor market is competing for talent, but the challenge goes beyond the unemployment rate, Raven said. Potential recruits seek opportunity and a sense of purpose, a sentiment echoed by the others on the panel.
Wicker suggested the military’s “two-year campaign” to talk about DEI in the military contributed to that 13% of survey responses fearing discrimination.
“These initiatives are at best a distraction; at worst they dissuade young people from enlisting. They suggest to the American people that the military has a problem with diversity and extremism,” he added.
Despite calls to address potential violent extremists in the military, substantial media coverage and a service-wide stand down, a Pentagon working group found less than 100 cases of extremism out of more than two million personnel.
TO RECEIVE TESTIMONY ON THE RECRUITING CHALLENGES FACING THE UNITED STATES MILITARY (Senate Armed Services Committe, 22 March 2023)