JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – The 7th Infantry Division command team discussed their personal and profession feelings toward the current social movement in the United States and their expectations for Soldiers and leaders within the organization during a live and open dialogue at the division headquarters here, June 9, 2020.
The division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson, and the command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Bolmer, hosted the live event in the wake of protests throughout the nation and globally after the death of George Floyd to initiate and encourage honest discussion about racism between leaders and Soldiers to determine the effect throughout the “Bayonet” division.
“We wanted to do this for a while,” said the division commanding general. “This didn’t just start today. As we sit and think about some of the things going on in our nation, we thought what better way, as we lead into some things we are going to be asking our team to do on Thursday, is to lead it out with a discussion amongst us.”
“It is going to encourage leaders at all levels, down to the lowest level team leaders, squad leaders, everyone having this conversation,” added Bolmer. “It’s been a long time coming. We as an Army and as a society, probably pushed off these types of conversations for too long. It’s important as a command team we have this conversation in an open dialogue discussion so it would encourage you to do the same.”
The hour-long conversation brought attention to their personal challenges and direct impacts on their own families.
“I find great pain in that, having to have these conversations to explain to my son, who happened to walk-in on the news and said, ‘what are they doing to that man,” Brunson said.
“I am not making excuse for it, nor am I going to be apologist for what we saw up there on the screen but we have to decide in our community, in our family, in our squad, the collective army squad, that we are not going to go for this,” he said. “We are not going to have it. There are ways to have your voice heard and I don’t think we should be silent about it. This is not where we should be as a nation. We want better for your son and daughter, for my son and daughters. We want better for them. How do we get there? It starts with talking.”
“It worries me about the future of my family. “At what point are we going to stop doing this to ourselves and be a free country that you don’t have to worry about the color of your skin or what your religion is? As a country we should be beyond that,” added Bolmer, a member of a bi-racial family himself.
The command team recognized the importance of the Army values and the need to strive to hold itself to a higher standard as a part of the community.
“I have about six years of combat over my 30 years of service and if we had seen Soldiers do the things we saw there on the street, they wouldn’t be Soldiers anymore,” Brunson noted. “The Army is not immune to these things, nor can we act as if the Army is perfect because it’s not. If the Army was perfect, we wouldn’t have sexual assault or sexual harassment. If the Army was perfect, we wouldn’t have a rash of suicides. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to be perfect.”
The division command team acknowledged this would be an opportunity for the Soldiers, leaders, and as an Army to step forward and collectively listen.
“If you haven’t had a chance to get to someone and have a discussion about what you saw or your thoughts on race, if you haven’t had those conversations yet, you have to find somebody to have the conversation with,” Brunson said. “You have to find that trusted person that is going to look you in the face and tell you their thoughts on it and be honest with you. Make room for your pain, make room for your anger, and make room for your frustrations so that you can move forward. At the end that’s what we do in the Army – move forward. But we are so much better when we move forward together.
“We are going to ask all of our squad level units to have this conversation,” he continued. “It’s important to have this conversation because we all want to know where we stand. … If you have a difference of opinion or a different view that’s not consistent with our values, you don’t belong here. You don’t belong in our Army if you can’t live by the Army values. We have to live by our values regardless of what we see. We have to be honest; we have to speak about it. Racism is a problem. We have to find ways to get about this.”
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