The U.S. military can, and must, address racial inequalities that have lingered for decades, the military’s top officer said, especially now, while the nation is grappling with racial divisions and civil unrest.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, in a videotaped address to the National Defense University’s graduating class, said the recent death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis policeman, “amplified the pain, frustration, and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in and day out.”
The military is struggling with racism, which has “no place in America, no place in our armed forces,” Milley said. “We must, we can, and we will do better.”
Only 7 percent of the military’s flag and general officers are black, and in the Navy and Marine Corps, there are no black flag officers with more than two stars. Meanwhile, the Air Force will soon swear in Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., to be its next chief of staff—the first black service chief in the history of the U.S. military. Milley called that “an achievement long overdue.”
The Pentagon must closely examine how it recruits, promotes, and retains service members, Milley said, and be sensitive not to alienate parts of the population. He said service members of all races must have an equal opportunity to compete in career fields that provide the greatest opportunity to advance, take command, and attend war colleges.
“We need all the talent that American society can muster,” Milley said.
Service members swear an oath to the Constitution and the rights it ensures, including the right to free speech, to peacefully assemble, and to a free press, Milley said. He then apologized for appearing in a photo op alongside President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 2.
“I should not have been there,” Milley said. His presence “in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley’s statement is the latest in a series from military leaders speaking out about the challenges of racism in the military, and pledges to address continuing disparities in discipline, justice, and promtions. These include Brown, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.