Diversity in the military

Adam Frommer and Marina Kazarian

Over time, the American military has become increasingly diverse, reflecting the changing demographics of our society, Army Col. Seth Morgulas ‘89 said. In 2004, the military was comprised of 36% racial minorities while in 2017 the number jumped to 43%, a Pew Research Center study wrote.
“In my experience, I found my units to be diverse in many ways, diversity you see and diversity you don’t see,” said Benjamin Jacobson ‘09, a former intelligence officer in the Marine Corps. “I worked with Marines of different races, birthplaces, genders, and sexual orientations.”
Schools such as West Point Military Academy have also contributed to the diversity of the military: according to their website, West Point has specifically incorporated initiatives to recruit people from diverse backgrounds and has created spaces for people to celebrate their cultures.
Junior Grade Navy Lieutenant (LTJG) Matt Meltzer ‘13 believes the military is progressive on the issue of diversity because people are forced to work together. “Nobody really succeeds on their own, you always have to rely on your teammates,” he said. “And so no matter where those teammates come from, what their backgrounds are, you just learn to have to work with them.”
“One mistake some people sometimes make about joining the military is they think they’re going to be treated like an individual,” Daniel Katz ‘00 said. “And the military is really about a group.”
While Meltzer has not personally been targeted for his identity, he acknowledged that others may have had different experiences.
“When I joined the army, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the way we dealt with homosexuality and now, I don’t think anyone notices or cares what anyone’s preference is in that regard,” Morgulas said.
Although African Americans have fought in all of the nation’s wars, in the period shortly before World War I, they were not permitted to enlist, Morgulas said. The 369th Sustainment Brigade which Morgulas currently commands was the first Regiment in that era to enlist African Americans.
Christian Hernandez ‘16 found that during training, people tended to split off into cliques based on who they felt comfortable with. After training, “it doesn’t matter what color you wear, you all bleed green.” However, geography played a role in how people were treated, he said. Some would say, “you think you’re from the city, you’re better than us.”
Elizabeth Vieyra ‘04, a former officer in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, said working with many other female members of the JAG Corps, including four female bosses out of five, has set a different tone in her workplace.
“Sometimes, people feel like if a man is the boss, men have an easier time becoming close with the boss just because the boss maybe feels uncomfortable around women,” she said. “Particularly now with everyone so hypersensitive around sexual harassment, there are some male bosses who feel like they don’t want to get too close with women who work for them in case they create some kind of an impression that they’re playing favorites.”
In addition, Vieyra has noticed that there are more women in certain Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), such as medical MOS, she said.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the percentage of females enlisted recruits in 2016 in the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, and the Marines is at least five percent higher in each area than it was in 1974. According to a CNN article, women made up 14.5% of active duty troops in 2011.
The military also aims to address issues of political diversity and free speech. Members of the military need to be especially careful with expressing their political views, Vieyra said, as there are certain restrictions on the First Amendment rights in the military.
“Some of the very antiquated views that I’ve actually now found out that some bosses in the civilian world have, you just don’t find in the military,” Vieyra said.
The members of the military represent the nation when in uniform, and that is how they differentiate between their personal and professional personas. Social media has blurred this boundary. “My own personal viewpoint is that you are welcome to say what you want when you are wearing civilian clothes,” he said. “You are welcome to post whatever you want on social media, as long as you’re not in uniform and in a way that reflects discredit upon the military.”
As a lawyer, Vieyra said she advised members of the military not to post hateful sentiments on social media, as several people have been reprimanded for that.
While forbidding political activity in uniform, the military allows for the practice of all religions. For instance, the Jewish population in the military is essentially proportional to that of the entire United States, Katz said. This meant that Katz was one of very few Jews he knew in the Army. “We’re all inherently most comfortable with people that we grew up with. So I definitely felt like I was someone living in a in a different culture, but I knew that’s what I was signing on for.” Although, he adds that it was more about going from a Northeastern, white collar, urban culture to a rural, blue collar culture than about the religious differences. “It definitely made me feel like a stranger in a strange land.”
Meltzer, too, is currently on a ship with 350 people, though there is only one other Jewish person. “We’re all most comfortable inherently with people that we grew up with,” Katz said. “So I definitely felt like I was someone living in a in a different culture, but I knew that’s what I was signing on for. I knew it was going to be different.”
Katz rarely heard anti-Semetic language while serving, and most people didn’t recognize it as such on the rare occasions it happened. One day, when there wasn’t as much food as usual in the dining hall, Katz overheard a peer say, “We got Jewed at the chow line today.” “Not a nice thing to say,” Katz said, “but he probably just heard that phrase occasionally growing up and didn’t realize it was anti-Semitic.”
Meltzer often finds that others are mostly curious about Judaism. “When they find out that I am Jewish they usually have a whole lot of questions,” he said. “Or they ask questions about things that they think that they know. It’s good that people want to know and learn about it.”
The military makes room for religion, Katz said. There are chaplains of all faiths who lead their respective religious services, and certain civilian organizations help service members practice their religion. For example, Jews observing Passover anywhere in the world could get as many boxes of matzah as needed, he said. During his first deployment to Iraq, he attended a Passover Seder at Baghdad International Airport to which the military had flown in Jewish service members from all over the country to participate.
In terms of leadership opportunities, the military could be doing a better job with diversity, Hernandez, who is training to be a Second Lieutenant, said. “In my program in the first two years, I was the only kid that was not white or not Asian.”
“The military in general, I would say is a huge melting pot. People from all different walks of life come together,” Meltzer said. “I’ve met people of all sorts of backgrounds, even those that haven’t existed at Horace Mann.”
“I think ultimately the most important thing for the military is that we have the best possible people in the military and that we continually choose the best person, no matter who they are, to fulfill a particular role,” Morgulas said.
Diversity in the army is changing for the better, Hernandez said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from.”