Army reviews diversity in combat arms leadership

By C. Todd LopezSeptember 16, 2016

Staff Sgt. Brent Williams
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Armor crewmembers fire the main guns of their M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, March 16, 2008, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Among officers for combat arms units, such as armor and infantry, minorities are underrepresented. The Army wants to get more minor... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Patrol Position
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Lou Cascino, commander of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), pulls security while Staff Sgt. Eric Stephens and 1st Lt. James Kromhout verify their position durin... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT EUSTIS, Va. (Army News Service) -- The Army has done a good job of increasing diversity in the force in terms both race and gender. But there's still work to be done.

At Fort Eustis, Virginia, July 12 through 14, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command convened the 2016 Army Diversity Summit to examine the reasons why the top tiers of leadership remain so homogeneous while much of the rest of the Army has become increasingly diverse. The summit was convened, in part, to solicit subject-matter experts for proposed solutions to the problem.

Diversity in race, gender and even social and economic background bring value to the Army, said Under Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy at the summit, because diverse teams of people produce better outcomes. And as the demographics of the United States change, so too must the Army.

"The Army is in the people business," Murphy said. "And to be here with subject-matter experts to figure out how to make us an even better force that is more diverse, that is more adaptive, and is more innovative is critically important to our future."

While the Army as a whole is a diverse force, there is still a lack of diversity in the top ranks, said Warren Whitlock, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for diversity and leadership.

"Somebody can look and say the Army is diverse," said Whitlock. "But that's not taking into account inclusion. Inclusion is when you have a synergistic relationship of people who are historically under-represented in positions where they can weigh in on the current and future operations of the organization. Inclusivity means having those diverse faces, those diverse perspectives, the diverse demographic perspectives at high levels of the organization."

Going into the summit, the Army provided insight it views as a starting point for those subject-matter experts to consider: first, that 65 percent of Army general officers are drawn from either combat arms or special operations forces. And second, that minority officers are underrepresented at the ranks of colonel and above in the combat arms branches of infantry and armor.

"I think one of the unfortunate trends is that we have seen some African Americans in our Army, officers specifically, not go into the infantry or armor branches," said Murphy. "We need to double down in recruiting them to go into those branches. When you look at our three and four star generals, the majority of them come from combat arms."

At the summit, three teams of about 20 experts each, made up of both Army officers and civilian subject-matter experts, were asked to develop recommendations on how best to improve the diversity of combat arms officers in the Army. Teams examined the problem from three different perspectives: accessions, development and employment, and retention.

At the conclusion of the three-day summit, those teams briefed senior Army leaders, including Murphy, on their recommendations.

Among the recommendations was the proposal to review how Human Resources Command distributes combat arms branches to the various sources of commission, which include the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; the Reserve Officers Training Corps; and Officer Candidate School.

A review of the branch distribution could potentially better allocate infantry and armor branches across a more diverse pool of candidates. Ensuring the Army provides the best opportunities to the best qualified is an important step toward talent differentiation and inclusion.

Another proposed solution presented to Army senior leaders was increased mentorship opportunities for minority officer candidates before they choose their branch.

While at West Point, cadets are exposed to a wide variety of officers from multiple Army branches. But in Reserve Officer Training Corps detachments across the country, cadets are exposed primarily to their professors of military science. Studies show that cadets tend to emulate their professor of military science when it comes time to choose a branch in the Army.

Increasing the number of infantry and armor officers who serve as professors of military science and assistant professors of military science at ROTC detachments around the country, while targeting schools with high minority attendance in the ROTC program, would put combat arms officers front and center in the lives of minority cadets.

That increased opportunity for mentorship from combat arms officers could increase the likelihood that those cadets would choose combat arms for their branch. As a result, more minority officers might volunteer to serve in the combat arms branches and, when the time comes to choose general officers from their officer cohort, there would be a larger number of minority officers competing for those positions.

Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force, said that good mentorship must exist throughout an officer's career to help guide officers to where they should serve in the Army, such as in what units, installations and jobs.

"We can do better at the role of mentoring, and at the role of coaching," Shoffner said.

The recommendations briefed at the summit will be considered by the Army as possible ways to increase minority representation in senior Army leadership. They were heard by Murphy, Whitlock, Shoffner, and Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, the Army's G-1.

"We have to have a plan of action, and we have to have a way to follow up," said Shoffner. "One of the recommendations is we use the Army Diversity Council as a way to make sure we implement the recommendations we are making today."

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