Policies pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion are pervasive throughout the U.S. armed forces, say experts, with one going so far as to warn that those policies are “destroying our military.” 

The Heritage Foundation recently hosted a series of panel discussions, “Seizing the Moment to Defeat DEI,” that brought together top conservative minds to discuss how to combat what they regard as those divisive leftist policies. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.) 

One of the panels focused its attention on DEI in the U.S. military.  

The panel of military experts was asked by moderator J.V. Venable, a senior research fellow in defense policy with the Allison Center for National Security at Heritage, where DEI got its first foothold. The director of the American Military Project at the Claremont Institute, Will Thibeau, said, “It started in the military.”

Thibeau, a former Army infantry officer, said the military became a testing ground for non-merit-based hiring programs, mainly through affirmative action and later DEI-based hiring practices, emphasizing race and sexual orientation.  

Thibeau said there already existed various affirmative action mandates in the Air Force and at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Those mandates required “proportional representation” in every military unit, thus recruiting people “based on not your ZIP code, or your income level growing up, but your race or sex,” he said. 

Another panelist at the March 13 event said the very culture of the military has been overtaken by DEI. Amber Smith, author of the forthcoming book “Unfit to Fight: How Woke Policies Are Destroying Our Military,” said, “DEI is extremely prevalent throughout military culture.”  

Smith, a former deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for outreach in public affairs and a former Army helicopter pilot, said it’s especially pervasive now because high-ranking military officials are openly embracing DEI initiatives. 

One such official, Smith noted, was the now-former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Mark Milley. Milley infamously said at a congressional hearing in June 2021 that he wanted to better understand what he called “white rage.” 

Smith also cited various West Point classes on leftist critical race theory and “whiteness.”  

A class slide obtained by the nonprofit Judicial Watch said, “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.” The slide also said whiteness “is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege … is “a standpoint or place from which white people look at themselves and the rest of society” and “refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed.” 

Smith said such classes are creating “weak leaders” and “a divisiveness that is absolutely damaging to the military as a whole.” 

Earl Matthews, a judge advocate for the Army Reserve and a former acting general counsel to the Army in the Trump administration, noted that “the military has been diverse for decades,” referring to President Harry Truman’s desegregating of the military in 1948. That, Matthews said, shows that DEI policies were never necessary in the first place. 

Answering a question on military race quotas, Thibeau said there are rules requiring that “blacks and Hispanics must promote at this rate; women must promote at this rate.”  

He added, “When these kinds of quotas exist, when the kind of preferencing for women in certain positions exists, the doubt of whether or not they earned that promotion or that selection fairly exists.”  

Thibeau said that’s problematic because it casts unwarranted doubts on those minority and female military members who genuinely earned and deserved their career advancements. 

Affirmative action and DEI, Matthews said, has the military focusing on differences, rather than “what makes us a cohesive force.”  

He said that “equity”—not to be confused with equality—is not a desirable practice in the military, adding that “equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome” is most important.  

Matthews said it should not “matter if you’re a black kid from the ghettos of Philadelphia or from Detroit, or a white kid from rural Alabama.” Despite being from different backgrounds, the troops can “become friends and comrades and go to war together,” he said.