Milley to Howard graduates: Your generation will make military ‘truly inclusive of all’
The top U.S. general on Wednesday told graduating ROTC cadets at Howard University that they are a major part of institutional changes dealing with race in the military.
“It is your generation that can and will bring the joint force to be truly inclusive of all people,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the 21 cadets at the historically Black university in Washington, D.C.
“One of the key strengths of the American military is our diversity and fighting for a common cause and we must get better,” he said. “Our force is almost 20 percent African American, it’s over 40 percent people of color. But only two of 41 four-star generals are Black. Opportunity in our military must be reflective of the diverse talent in order for us to stay strong.”
Milley’s comments come as the military is struggling to root out extremism from its ranks — a longstanding issue that came to the forefront after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in which several people arrested have military backgrounds.
The national’s top uniformed official was also embroiled in Trump’s highly controversial photo-op alongside military officials at a church in Washington last June after racial injustice protesters were forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square near the White House.
Milley apologized for his involvement a day after the incident, quickly releasing an official message to troops saying his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
“We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation and we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the essence of our republic,” Milley said in the taped address.
On Wednesday, Milley told the cadets that the military oath they were about to take “will forever be your North Star, your home base in a storm. Your moral center. It will be your center of gravity.”
“And you’re going to be judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin,” he said. “That is the core organizing principle of the United States of America. That is the vision of our country, that is written into the Constitution. And that must always be our North Star, and our goal to form a more perfect union. That is why I wear the uniform. That is why you are wearing the uniform. That is why you are taking an oath, and that is why you will fight.”
Milley also used his speech to warn of “potential international instability” due to China’s rise as well as new ways to use artificial intelligence and robotics in warfare.
“We are entering a period of potential international instability,” Milley said, comparing the moment to “huge geopolitical shifts,” including the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decline of the Roman Empire.
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States essentially was the unchallenged global military, political and economic power. With the rise of China, that is changing and changing fast.”
He also warned that the development of robotics, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and other technologies that are just now being fielded “are extraordinarily disruptive and potentially decisive in the conduct of war.”
Asked about Milley’s comments later on Wednesday, top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agrees with the top general “that there’s much more that we need to do to improve diversity and inclusion and opportunity inside the force.”
“The secretary believes this has got to be a concerted effort, an every day effort, and it’s got to be led. If leaders across the department don’t take this on as a personal commitment, it’s not going to change,” Kirby said of getting more people of color into top leadership positions inside the department.
Kirby also said Austin has continued to work toward such a goal since he entered the Pentagon in January.
“This is a readiness issue. It is important for the force to look like the country it serves, absolutely. But he strongly believes that diversity is a readiness issue because it allows different perspectives, additional context, different lived experiences to inform the way we make decisions, the policies that we craft, the operations that we lead,” Kirby said.