Report: military leadership too white and too male

Tuesday - 3/8/2011, 9:40am EST

Lester Lyles, General, USAF ret., chair, Military Leadership Diversity Commission

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The Armed Services need to increase diversity within their leadership ranks according to a new report. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission says current leaders don't accurately represent the population they serve or the forces they lead.

Retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, chairman, told Federal News Radio the commission initially focused on military leadership, especially flag officers, looking at "barriers, policies, procedures that impact the ability for women and minorities" to achieve the most senior ranks. The scope was expanded to include senior enlisted.

Twenty recommendations have been offered in the final report, said Lyles, addressing the culture associated with the promotion process and career development for young men and women in the armed forces.

Lyles said the commission realizes "that some of the recommendations we might have might become even a little bit more difficult in the future because of the decreasing number of people who are eligible. Hence some of our recommendations actually deal with trying to use the military capabilities, military talent, and resources to improve the numbers of people who are available and eligible to serve in the military, and particularly those in minority status or women."

According to the commission, "projections suggest that minority populations of ages appropriate for military service will increase in the next century, while the non-Hispanic, White population will decrease."

Of particular concern to all the services is how unprepared the nation's high school and college students are for military service.

All of the services, said Lyles, "and particularly in today's military which is so high-tech, high technology is almost endemic, if you will, and it's part of the baseline and backbone for all of our military activities. Hence the caliber of young men and women that we need to serve at all ranks is much more highly qualified than perhaps it would have been in the past, particularly from a technology sense. So our recommendations are definitely to work with the education departments, work with other institutions which are trying to address this same sort of problem." To address that, the commission recommends Defense partner with those institutions.

One of the premises when the study was started, said Lyles, was that there is a "good ol' boy network" for promotion and that the institution was biased. Instead, Lyles said the commission found it is fair, but that there are barriers, both overt and tacit.

The tacit barriers, said Lyles, include the way the military develops careers. Mentoring and improved training are needed to help future leaders make the correct career decisions.

As for the one overt barrier, the commission recommends Defense and the Services should eliminate the "combat exclusion policies" for women.

Lyles explained, "the chances of getting to the higher ranks, so three star and four star general, are greatly diminished if you don't have the opportunity to serve in combat arms."

That barrier has been overcome once, and only once, by a woman in U.S. military history to reach the level of four-star General.

"Now I will tell you," said Lyles, "there is one very, very highly qualified, great young lady today who is the only four star General in the military. She runs the Army Materiel Command, General Ann Dunwoody, and she is not an exception. That probably sounds like a pejorative term. She is a great officer and we think there is an opportunity for more like her in all the services, but particularly in the Army if you remove the combat exclusion policy."

Now that the report is final, the Commission will disband, but its report will be sent to Congress, the White House and senior military leaders, said Lyles.

Many of the recommendations reinforce the work that's already being done by defense, said Lyles, to improve diversity and values that people have in military leadership "and so we know that our recommendations are going to be looked at seriously along with ongoing activities to see how they can be implemented and put into action."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.