WEST POINT, N.Y. (Army News Service, April 7, 2009) - Army diversity policy was unveiled last week at the U.S. Military Academy and West Point Association of Graduates' 10th annual Diversity Leadership Conference, April 2-4.

An Army policy memorandum on diversity signed April 1 by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston was presented to conference attendees. It calls for the Army to be the "national leader in embracing the strengths of diverse people in an inclusive environment."

The policy also calls for the Army to be an "adaptive, culturally astute" force. It states that Soldiers must be more effective at understanding the cultures and environments where they serve.

Brig. Gen. Belinda Pinckney, Army Diversity Office chief, presented the memorandum, blown up to giant size. She spoke Friday on behalf of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, who was unable to attend, about what diversity means to the Army.

"Diversity makes us better and more equipped to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st Century," Pinckney said. "Diversity is an enabler. It enables us to benefit from a pool of different skills and move beyond preconceived notions to look at new procedures, processes, methods and structures.

"It enables us to recognize different opportunities, views, cultures and with it, we recognize we're all components of America's society and the world, at large," she added.

She said the nation models integration and that the Army is, "building a strong foundation with the intent to invest in talent and to value and develop Soldiers and civilians who enhance our capabilities and who are prepared for the complexities of leadership and global engagement."

"The wealth of diverse backgrounds among our Soldiers and civilians enhances our abilities to operate effectively in different parts of the world," she added. "The Army recognizes that it must rely on a dynamic force with (endless) talent, multicultural knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish the mission."

The theme of this year's conference was "Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion." The focus centered on the principles, practices and accomplishments of successful diversity and inclusion efforts in the private sector, government and academia. It was an opportunity for sharing innovations and ideas between military and corporate diversity leaders.

Panel discussions included presentations by service academy cadets/midshipmen, military and corporate leaders talking about the relevance of diversity and its importance now and in the future.

The guest speaker for the luncheon was Gen. Kip Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command and an energetic speaker on the importance of diversity in his life.

A son of a World War II Army combat-engineer sergeant who served in a segregated military, Ward spoke about diversity being more than a "check in the box."

"Why is it in our best interest to do our best in promoting (diversity) and give the sort of opportunities and things that causes every one of our citizens (whether they are) black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, male or female to be offered and afforded the opportunity to be ... all that they can be," Ward said. "That is important to our nation."

The message he wanted to pass on to the audience is that the Army or any institution must pay attention to diversity at its highest levels because if they don't do it there, no one else will.

A graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Ward said he never envisioned himself standing in front of a group of corporate leaders and West Point "types" discussing diversity, let alone discussing anything else. He kept on asking the crowd, "How did I get here'"

West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Buster Hagenbeck spoke during the conference opening and referenced the need to graduate young officers who understand the value of similarities and differences inside and outside their units. He said understanding diversity in our country can only aid future leaders as they pursue the cross-cultural awareness needed to participate in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hagenbeck still feels there's a need for improvement even though the Army is a leading institution as he said, "We cannot depend on people's goodwill to make this work. If in 20 years, the Army's senior leadership still looks like me, we screwed up."

Pinckney looks at West Point as a leader in diversity and as an institution that is thoroughly committed to promoting it through cadet clubs that support diversity and supporting the diversity conference for the past 10 years.

"Having the diversity conference speaks volumes to the commitment and the more we have of these types of conferences with open, frank conversations and transparency--it is a good thing," Pinckney explained. "As West Point continues to do this and the (Army) Diversity Office continues to work with West Point and other corporations that were represented at the conference, we'll definitely continue moving in the right direction."

(Eric S. Bartelt is assistant editor of the Pointer View newspaper.)