The U.S. military has a problem, according to a DoD advisory panel.
And no, we're not referring to the demands of two on-going wars (and the toll on those who serve); escalating personnel costs, a shrinking fleet, aging nuclear forces and combat aircraft that are equally long-in-the tooth. The group wasn't asked to address those pressing concerns.
The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday.
Seventy-seven percent of senior officers in the active-duty military are white, while only 8 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 16 percent are women, the report by an independent panel said, quoting data from September 2008.
Efforts over the years to develop a more equal opportunity military have increased the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the ranks of leadership. But, the report said, “despite undeniable successes ... the armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve.”
“This problem will only become more acute as the racial, ethnic and cultural makeup of the United States continues to change,” said the report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, whose more than two dozen members included current and former military personnel as well as businessmen and other civilians.
It's tempting to dismiss the report as little more than PC drivel. But the commission's chairman, retired Air Force General Lester Lyles, has a reputation as a straight-shooter and an outstanding leader. It's hard to imagine that he would simply compile the usual rot and sign off on it. If General Lyles is willing to stake his reputation on the report, then it's probably worth a look.
Based on our first read, the panel's findings appear to be a mixed bag. While General Lyles and his group offer some excellent ideas (for example, coordinating enlisted and officer recruiting, to identify candidates for commissioning programs at the earliest opportunity), there are also a few clunkers. When the commission suggests some sort of mechanism (and metrics) for tracking progress in creating a more "diverse" leadership corps, it sounds a lot like a quota system.
And quite frankly, that's the last thing our military needs. The armed forces need to train and promote the best and brightest, regardless of their ethnic background or gender. The advancement of minority and female officers has been slow, but no one can dispute that more members of those groups are reaching senior ranks in the U.S. military.
Which leads us to another point: the commission (and elected officials) say they want an officer corps that reflects America. That's a worthy goal, but are you willing to trade mission effectiveness to achieve it? Among its various recommendations, the panel urges DoD to "open additional career fields and units involved in 'direct ground combat' to qualified women." Trouble is, the vast majority of military women will never qualify to serve in such positions, the result of physiology--not discrimination.
Almost 20 years ago, columnist Fred Reed published results of an Army study, comparing fitness levels among male and female soldiers. The data reaffirms that most women simply lack the upper body strength and endurance required by an Army infantryman, a Marine rifleman, or most special forces MOS's.
The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength... An Army study of 124 men and 186 women done in 1988 found that women are more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer fractures as men.
The Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony about the physical differences between men and women that can be summarized as follows:
Women's aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.
In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.
The same report also cited a West Point study from the early 90s which discovered that, in terms of fitness, the upper quintile of female cadets achieved scores equal to the lowest quintile of their male counterparts (emphasis ours).
So, what's a chief diversity officer supposed to do (don't laugh--the commission recommends creation of that very post, reporting directly to the SecDef). Water down the standards so more women will qualify for combat service, removing that "barrier" to reaching the flag ranks? Or create some sort of double-standard, allowing females to punch their resumes in the right places and continue their climb to the stars. Either approach is unacceptable, yet some sort of "modification" is inevitable, to open up more combat billets to women.
As for minorities, their under-representation in the ranks of generals and admirals reflects another set of problems. For starters, there's our failing education system which impacts blacks and Hispanics more than the general population. Because many young men and women in those groups receive an inferior education, they tend to score lower on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery ASVAB, which sets the cognitive baseline for military service, and what jobs will be open to recruits who achieve a passing score.
For many minority candidates, the ASVAB has become a barrier to military service. We noted last December that, according to a recent study, 29% of Hispanics and 39% of African-Americans failed to achieve the minimum score (31) to enter the U.S. Army. In other words, more than 25% of young Hispanics and almost 40% of their African-American counterparts couldn't score high enough to enlist in the Army, which has the lowest qualifying score of any branch of the armed services. Obviously, if a young man or woman (regardless of their ethnic background) can't pass the enlistment test, they have no chance of becoming an officer and reaching the highest military ranks.
The Lyles' report also suggests that minorities who serve would do well to broaden their horizons. Past studies indicate that many non-whites in the military select jobs that have applicability in the civilian world. Nothing wrong with that, but such choices also exclude many minority NCOs and officers from combat jobs that would enhance their promotion prospects. In fact, one assessment cited in the study found that some minorities believe that individuals in certain military jobs hold "racist" attitudes.
For example some racial/ethnic minority service members interviewed by researchers said Special Forces "A" Teams and Ranger Regiments were viewed as "white-only" organizations with racist views. Of course, there isn't one shred of evidence to support that contention, and it must come as a shock to the scores of African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities who have completed Ranger training, or served in special forces. The Lyles commission believes the military needs to do a better job of mentoring to help overcome these barriers.
Did we mention that the armed services already spend a lot of time and money on mentoring? And they devote considerable effort towards recruiting minority candidates, particularly for officer training programs. Years ago, while serving as an Air Force ROTC instructor, I spoke with a member of our headquarters staff, who lamented the high wash-out rates for minority pilot and navigator candidates who graduated from historically black colleges and universities.
But despite that trend, the service remains committed to those institutions, which have produced leaders like General Lyles (who graduated of Howard University) and General Lloyd "Fig" Newton, a product of Tennessee State). Abandoning those schools would deprive the military of future leaders of that caliber, something we simply cannot afford. In that regard, the armed services are going above and beyond in their search for outstanding minority officers.
Still, even that sort of partnership can be carried to the point of exaggeration. On page 58 of the Lyles' report has a graphic that shows the location of Air Force ROTC detachments, in relation to large populations of black and Hispanic students. The study notes three "potentially rich markets" in Texas, Southern California and the Mid-Atlantic Region that are under-served, suggesting the Pentagon create a BRAC-style commission to decide which ROTC units should be closed and detachments that should be moved, in order to produce more minority officers.
Looking at the same graphic we noted our own trend: the wholesale lack of Air Force ROTC detachments in Montana. Using the logic behind the Lyles report, white and Native American students in that state are a less important recruiting target for the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Besides, if they really want to participate in Air Force ROTC, they can always move to Idaho, Wyoming or Utah.
And that example truly illustrates the folly of the commission's report. When you start developing independent commissions to move ROTC programs to generate more minority participation and mandate annual "barrier analysis" (to see how many obstacles still remain), you're losing focus on the military mission. To be fair, General Lyles insists that military performance and effectiveness remain the real bottom line, but if the commission's recommendations are fully implementing, the armed forces will be walking a very fine line.
No one disputes the benefits of more flag officers who are women or members of minority groups. But the real emphasis should be on demanding excellence from all who aspire to flag rank, and promoting those who meet--and exceed--a very high bar. Some of the "remedies" outlined in the Lyles report seem closer to social engineering, particularly when you introduce the notions of "measurement" and "metrics."