When it comes to the military, Redstone senior commander Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion is "one in a million" -- one of more than 1.4 million diverse faces who serve their country day in and day out.
McQuistion addressed members of Leadership Huntsville/Madison County Class 28 as part of their diversity day, the first of its kind for a Leadership Huntsville class. Speaking on "Diversity in the Armed Forces," McQuistion spoke to the successes and challenges the military has seen in embracing diversity, as well as how attitudes regarding diversity have changed over the course of her career that spans more than three decades.
Growing up, McQuistion's mother always told her she was "one in a million," a phrase she used to help class members understand just how vast and diverse the armed forces are.
"When we take a look at diversity, we really understand that we are a military that takes its mission sets and goes and does what our nation asks us to do," McQuistion said. "To be able to do that to the best of our ability, we have to be representative of the nation that we are here to protect and defend. Diversity is important because we want to draw the very best from our populations so that we collectively are defending the nation."
Focusing largely on the ways the Army approaches diversity, she spoke about the importance of diversity -- whether it be gender, race, color, creed, capability or lifestyle -- not only among those in uniform, but in the civilian and contractor populations as well. Efforts to be a diverse force are intentional, McQuistion noted, and may become more challenging as the Army reduces in size, impacting its ability to bring in new people, thus refreshing the workforce.
"We know that it doesn't happen by chance," she said. "It could, but that's not really a plan if you're going to try and prove the diversity of your organization. It's not really going to happen unless you have leadership intention from the top, you have a plan and you have a road map."
Drawing from her own experience as a female who has risen successfully through the Army ranks, McQuistion highlighted the strides the Army has made in regards to women since she was commissioned in 1980. Today, approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population is female, with about 17 percent of those women serving in the military, McQuistion said. Since she first put on the uniform, a wider array of military occupational specialties have been made available to women, who may also now attend Ranger School.
"The battlefield is no longer a linear battlefield," McQuistion said. "You don't have the rear area and forward areas where the infantry and armor and artillery units go forward. Now we have forward operating bases, it's pretty much a 360 degree battlefield, and women are in all of those units doing the combat missions."
The Office of Diversity and Leadership is in place to ensure diversity remains a priority, and the Army Materiel Command has a published diversity road map to help leaders figure out how to get to where they want to go in the future.