By Lt. General Rod Bishop, USAF ret, USAFA ’74
STARRS Chairman of the Board
What is wrong with today’s United States military?
In a word: division. As a once proud member of a distinguished group of senior leaders in the U.S. Air Force, I am loathe to criticize people who, if I were still serving, would be my “wingmen,” “battle buddies,” or “shipmates.”
However, retention is falling, recruitment is underwater, and confidence in the military is on a sharp decline, according to recent polling. Veteran families — a continual source of recruits throughout the decades — are no longer recommending military service to their children and grandchildren. The Heritage Foundation recently classified military readiness as “weak”; Russia and China are liking what they are seeing.
Meanwhile, military leadership has introduced the divisive critical race theory into their ranks, dressing it up in words pleasing to one’s ear, such as “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion.” They have opened the gates of the fort and piped aboard this ideology with great enthusiasm.
Gone are the unifying messages of past decades, such as “One team, one fight,” “We all bleed army green,” or “Service before self.” Today, the focus is on highlighting one’s individual identity, or “identity politics on steroids,” as one U.S. Air Force Academy cadet recently described it to me.
Today’s leaders seem more intent on ensuring their “troops” are indoctrinated into the politically correct rhetoric of the social justice wars sweeping across our nation than on teaching them the skills, knowledge, and trust required for the defense of this nation.
As another USAFA cadet expressed in a note home recently:
They are always telling us to become leaders of character, but it feels like ‘leaders of character’ is just a buzzword that is overused because our character isn’t being developed by sitting through diversity and inclusion briefings, listening to people tell us what words to use and not use.
Why is this happening? It appears that senior leaders themselves have already been indoctrinated into the woke ideologies of the day.
We have a Defense Secretary who, during his confirmation, promised to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists.” Ominously, he said he would “keep America safe from our enemies, but we cannot do that if some of those enemies live within our own ranks.” What extremists was he referencing? The military has been objectively diverse and inclusive for decades, so what sort of ideology is he attempting to eradicate?
Additionally, we have a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has declared he “wants to understand white rage,” and a recent Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force who proudly declared, “I am a black man who just happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,” rather than the other way around.
And this past year, in a bold move to wipe away the lesson of character over skin color that MLK Jr. taught us, the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy told a congressman in a meeting, “If I am in a formation and the commander says, ‘I just want us all to be colorblind,’ I would be greatly offended.”
Talk about walking back decades of progress!
With words such as these, not only are leaders trying to foster tribalism in our military, but they are also eroding the selfless warrior ethos. Both are antithetical to developing a unified culture of “service before self” that is necessary to optimize combat readiness.
If the promulgation of these divisive ideologies is not bad enough, military commanders seem to have also adopted a dangerous taste for totalitarianism. You only have to look to the irrational insistence of “get vaccinated or else” policies that were on extensive display in 2021 and 2022, despite the overwhelming scientific and legal evidence against such a policy, for proof.
Indeed, under the guise of military readiness — a thought that may have been well founded initially when the vaccine order was first enacted — the resulting impact on readiness was exactly the opposite. Thousands of healthy, able service members were wrongly eliminated from serving their country because they objected to the military’s vaccine mandate. This, at a time when military branches are struggling to find recruitees able to pass watered-down physical fitness standards.
Additionally, in many cases, military leaders accused those who had justified concerns about the vaccine of being politically motivated criminals and dissidents, thereby demonizing them to the rest of the force and creating — you guessed it — division.
No one wants to believe our own military leaders would intentionally do harm to the very country they have sworn an oath to defend by damaging and dividing the force entrusted to their care. But it is clear this division is at last least due in part to many leaders, who have bought into the idea that these policies are reasonable. Many more have deferred to the age-old excuses of “That’s above my pay grade,” or, “I’m just following orders,” putting their own careers ahead of standing up for those in their charge.
Let us hope some find what General George Patton called “the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men”: moral courage. Courage to do the right thing; courage to lead and unify — not divide.
Lt. Gen. USAF (Ret) Rod Bishop served our nation in uniform for 38 years, retiring as the commander of 3 AF with operational responsibilities for U.S. Air and Space Force operations in Europe and Africa. He is presently the chairman of the board of Stand Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services, Inc, (STARRS.US).