The average person may think that entering the armed forces translates to leaving any hope of personal identity behind, or at least stashed away till the service ends. The United States military is an extraordinary organization, and it has gained its reputation and power through a focus unlike anything the world has ever seen before: a commitment to the common goal of safeguarding the nation, and acting as a peacekeeping presence globally. Nothing like this can be accomplished without an equal commitment from all its members. In the minds of these members, this usually means giving up their individuality, to better serve the common good. People see the U.S. Army, then, as a force made up, not of a variety of individuals, but as an entity of absolute uniformity.
There is truth to this perception. No organization so vast and so dedicated to vital principles can function without a shared vision, from the highest rank to the lowest. At the same time, and often overlooked, is the simple fact that the U.S. Army is an enterprise that has enjoyed great success for centuries because it is a highly intelligent enterprise. The army never just acts; it always thinks, as well, and this intelligence brings the awareness that quality army service depends on a full acceptance of a basic reality: the army is made up of American citizens, and American citizens never fall into only a few, traditional, cultural categories. The army soldier does indeed set a large part of himself aside to serve his country, but the essence of what makes him a person is also what makes him a good soldier, and this is the cultural understanding that you, as Equal Opportunity Advisers, are in place to convey.
Today’s army is about diversity, to be sure. So, however, was yesterday’s army. We tend to think of only the modern U.S. as reflecting complex cultural diversity, and it is certainly true that more and more citizens from other nations seek new lives in our nation. Latin American, Indian, African, and Eastern Europeans immigrants have consistently forged enormous cultural presences here in the U.S. over the last few decades, but this tide is nothing more than a variation on those that go back hundreds of years. Diversity, new? Think about the early years of the 20th century, when America was headed into World War I. Just before this, tens of millions of new Americans had come to these shores from Italy, Ireland, and Germany. Many of those new arrivals would soon be carrying American weapons into battle, and across the sea they had traveled over so recently. At the time, these men were the “diversity”, and they and their families were introducing new ways of life into the American culture already in place. Then, as now, what matters is that they were Americans. Then, as now, the U.S. Army understood that commitment to the nation is not a trait from any single culture; it is a culture unto itself, and one born from the simple fact of being an American.
This is what must be foremost in your minds and hearts, as you take on your new responsibilities. You are not promoting a new mode of thinking, and one generated from today’s influx of different cultures. You are encouraging and upholding an honorable tradition, and one with roots as deep as the history of the United States. Diversity has always been the defining element of America; there is no America without it. That understood, it follows that equal opportunity and fair treatment be common to all who serve, because those American values must be present in the force that serves America. Nothing can defend the U.S. without reflecting the essence of the U.S., and this is the absolute truth you must present to recruits. Diversity, equal opportunity, and fair treatment are as embedded in the soul of the army as they are in the Constitution of the United States.