WASHINGTON -- As the Army continues efforts to improve diversity within its ranks, it is also reinforcing policies to eradicate extremist behaviors and activities.
The battle against extremism is different from other challenges the Army encounters, said Col. Timothy Holman, the Army’s chief diversity officer. Extremism can tear apart cohesive teams.
For the colonel, the fight against extremism is one he personally encountered. His aim is clear: do what he can to help open a path for future Army leaders and make the force as diverse as the nation it defends.
“My hope is to ensure better representation of our country among the senior ranks,” he said.
As a child in Mississippi during the early 1960s, Holman, an African-American, witnessed the tail-end of an era plagued by racially-motivated murders based on skin color. People such as Emmett Till in 1955; Medgar Evers in 1963; Vernon Dahmer in 1966; and others whose names history may never know, were all killed in areas near Holman’s hometown.
“Growing up in a little bitty segregated Mississippi town, it was not uncommon for people to call you derogatory terms, and nothing would happen [to them],” he said. “It was a place where people said, ‘hey, you can’t come to this side of town after dark because of the color of your skin.’”
The Army’s policy bans all personnel from participating in extremist organizations and activities, Holman said. Organizations and activities in which personnel are prohibited from participating include those that advocate, among other things: racial intolerance or discrimination; use of force to deprive individuals of their constitutional rights; and advocating or teaching the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Prohibited actions in support of extremist organizations or activities include, but are not limited to, participating in a public demonstration or rally; attending a meeting or activity with knowledge that it involves an extremist cause; fundraising; and recruiting, training, or organizing members of extremist organizations.
In other words, extremism in any form has no place in the military, the colonel said.
Ideally, extremism would not exist anywhere, but Holman is very familiar with extremism after growing up in rural Mississippi during the civil rights movement.
For two decades, he endured unmistakable racism. He feared things others may take for granted, like walking through certain areas after certain hours.
When he raised his right hand and swore to defend the Constitution under the Army cloth, the young lieutenant encountered a culture shock. “How does [my past] go away when someone says, ‘in the Army, it doesn’t work the way it does in Mississippi,’” he said.
“I had to learn [the Army’s] value system,” he continued. “What I endured in rural Mississippi is not acceptable in the Army. It was hard to turn that switch on.”
As an engineer officer, there were many times Holman served as the only Black officer leading white Soldiers, who looked like the individuals who once oppressed him. “It was a culture shock,” he said.
Over the years, the Army, as well as the nation, has made great strides with diversity, he said. However, he continued, the Army must invest in teaching Soldiers that what they may have learned at their house, or the environment from which they came, may not comport with the Army values.
In July, service leaders updated Army Regulation 600-20, or Army Command Policy, which prescribes policy prohibiting participation in extremist organizations and activities, specifically addressing cyber activities.
AR 600-20 clearly articulates that personnel are responsible for the content they publish on all personal and public internet domains to include social media sites, blogs, and other websites; and participation in internet sites sponsored by extremist organizations and activities is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service.
If individuals violate these rules they may be subject to criminal and administrative consequences, and Army personnel are urged to speak up if they notice these violations, Holman said.
Additionally, AR 381-12, the Threat Awareness and Reporting Program, or TARP, describes indicators of extremist activity. TARP training, which is conducted by Army counterintelligence agents, is designed to ensure personnel understand and report, among other things, incidents and indicators of attempted or actual extremist activities directed against the Army and its personnel.
All Army personnel will receive TARP training within 30 days of assignment or employment to an organization and will undergo live environment TARP training at least annually.
The Army also created iSALUTE and iWATCH Army, which are programs designed to facilitate reporting suspicious behavior. iSALUTE is an Army counterintelligence reporting program that permits personnel to report threat incidents, extremist behavioral indicators, and other counterintelligence matters. iWATCH Army is an anti-terrorism awareness program that includes materials and resources to help families identify and report indicators of potential terrorist activity.
According to the Office of the Provost Marshal General, suspicious behavior or actions of a person, or group of people, should be reported. There are numerous means of reporting: the chain of command, local law enforcement, iSALUTE, and the Insider Threat Hub, among others. If the actions of the person or group are life threatening, call emergency responders and/or 911.
Steps in the right direction
As part of the Project Inclusion initiative, Army leaders initiated a listening tour, titled “Your Voice Matters,” which aims to cultivate a culture built on trust, Holman said.
During the listening tour, Army leaders take note of the concerns pertaining to “racism, diversity, equity, inclusion, extremism, quality of life, whatever Soldiers have on their minds,” Holman said.
Project Inclusion, which began during the summer, is an effort to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion across the force while building cohesive teams. “This holistic effort will listen to Soldiers and Army civilians, and identify any practices that inadvertently discriminate,” he said.
Extremism has frequently been a topic of discussion during the "Your Voice Matters” listening sessions, which are sometimes held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. It is a topic from which the diversity chief does not shy away.
“We have to [address] these issues, move toward diversity, and understand how people who might join the Army with extremist views are redirected,” he said. “It’s in line with what Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said, ‘people first.’”
Modernization is critical; however, the Army’s people will operate the equipment and make it work, Holman said. If the psychological safety of a fighting force prevents it from being its best, then the mission will fail.
"When the chief of staff touts 'people first,' that is reflected in eradication of any extremism within the ranks," he said. “Extremism will only limit or prohibit building the cohesive teams the Army needs. If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter how good your equipment is, if the soul of the force isn’t operating at an optimal level.”