Back in the 1970s when I was advocating for women to serve in warships and other non-traditional and combat roles and we were more focused on equal opportunity and merit rather than inclusiveness, equity and diversity, one of the common arguments against the Women in Ships program was concern that standards would be lowered to accommodate the women. If, for example, fewer women than men qualified for command or the percentage that did qualify fell significantly short of their percentage of the general population, pressure from Congress, the media or the general public would eventually force the lowering of the standards for women in order to “level the playing field.”

That would be a sure path to destruction of the military’s warrior culture and fortunately, it didn’t happen. Qualifications for those chosen to lead others in battle must be based on merit, judgement and character, not racial or gender balance or any method involving quotas to achieve what is now called diversity or inclusion. Ability and judgement are all that really matters in combat, not race or gender or any other accident of birth.

It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to read an op-ed by the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force which seems to suggest that there’s “a good job that really matters” for just about anyone if they’ll volunteer to serve in the armed forces. With all due respect to the secretaries, I hope that’s not the case. If there’s a job that just about anyone can fill, that sounds like a job that can be civilianized or maybe even eliminated. As it is, there are too many strange job titles in the military that don’t sound like they have anything to do with the military’s mission which is to deter or fight wars. To paraphrase the old marine recruiting ad, the services are looking for some really good people to fill very demanding and sometimes dangerous jobs in defense of our nation.

To my way of thinking, the military is a band of brothers and sisters joined together in a common mission. Although it wasn’t always colorblind, it became so long before the rest of America did. Qualification and advancement is based upon merit and performance, not skin color, and if it doesn’t always exactly mirror the general population then that may be a reason to step up recruiting efforts among underrepresented minorities if, that is, they are allowed into their communities and campuses. The military, however, is not in the affirmative action business and should not create the impression that it can offer a good job that really matters to anyone who wants to join. Merit will always matter because the consequences of failure are too great to risk lowering standards.

If anything, qualification standards are going to increase and the services will become more technologically complex. It’s disturbing that so many Americans of draft age fail to qualify for military service because of obesity, low grades, drug usage or criminal records, but the solution must be to decrease manpower requirements by increasing automation, not lowering standards.

Military service is not just another job and the military not just another employer. It’s a way of life, especially for careerists. It must, absent a return to the draft, demand the best of the volunteers. The military therefor, must discriminate, if you will, against the overweight, the physically impaired, vision and hearing impairment, those with addiction problems, low test scores that predict inability to successfully complete technical training and those with criminal records. Selection and advancement is highly competitive and based on the needs of the service for particular skills at a given point in time, not on quotas. Discipline is strict and attrition is high. The focus on diversity and equity, however, may give the impression that military service is comparable to civilian employment. It’s not. It’s a 24/7 commitment. We hire civilians for the shift work and there may be a job in the civil service for nearly anyone who wants one. I was assigned a civilian secretary who could barely type years ago at the Pentagon and was told to give her time to learn. The uniformed military, however, can’t afford to operate like that.

The needs of the services can result in female underrepresentation. In the warfare specialties like surface warfare, for example, the navy must recruit more males than females because female retention is consistently lower than male retention, primarily because women want to start families by a certain age. Among other things, this results in fewer females qualifying for promotion and command than males.

Hopefully, technological advances will compensate for recruiting shortfalls due to the declining quality of draft age Americans or diminished interest in military service. Still, there will usually always be a job available that really matters in the uniformed services but only for those with the right stuff regardless of the color of their skin.

VOL. 112, NO. 45 - Nov. 9, 2022

(1) comment

jrainey82

Another way to destroy the warrior culture is to convince the service age population that the country is not worth serving or sacrificing for because it is, and always has been "systemically racist" and "white supremacist." Who in their right mind would want to serve or defend that?

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