While President Biden’s Secretary of the Army has defended its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs this week as “important,” several current and former members of the U.S. military, who have put their lives on the line to ensure America’s security and defend its freedoms, are sounding the alarm over what they call a culture putting “wokeness” before training and combat effectiveness.
Those service members, some of whom served with Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are blaming that culture for its recruiting challenges, which have risen to a level unseen since it was transitioned to an all-volunteer force.
“The military is extremely woke,” one service member told Fox News Digitial recently.
“I do perceive the Army leadership as woke, and probably the lower enlisted (they have been indoctrinated in school),” another service member said. “Equity-diversity is another way to divide and control the masses. It does nothing for the warfighter.”
“We get criticized, frankly, sometimes for being ‘woke,'” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at a Monday discussion with other military leaders on national security and the branch’s modernization efforts. “I’m not sure what ‘woke’ means. I think ‘woke’ means a lot of different things to different people.”
She continued, “But, first of all, if ‘woke’ means we are not focused on warfighting, we are not focused on readiness, that doesn’t reflect what I see at installations all around the country or overseas when I go and visit.”
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The service members, who remained anonymous so they could speak freely, almost universally shared a similar sentiment, with many noting that senior members who speak out on the issue risk their careers or retirement pensions.
“Merely questioning the goals or methods used to promote ‘Equity & Diversity’ is punished and that punishment is swift, harsh, and public,” one service member said.
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“I 100% believe the military is woke. I see daily minorities, overweight people and women not adhering to military standards,” another said. “Nobody corrects them due to the fear of being fired and labeled a racist or a sexist.”
“I do think we do have a wide range of soldiers in our Army, and we’ve got to make them all feel included,” Wormuth said Monday. “And that’s why a lot of our diversity, equity and inclusion programs are important.”
Another service member pointed to the military’s COVID-19 policies, noting the vaccine mandate has forced many members in good standing into difficult decisions.
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“Most of us who serve did so because we came from military families. Patriotism and American values are no longer appreciated or expected,” one service member said. “Troops themselves are largely treated as expendable and they don’t even pretend otherwise. Spending 15+ years in the military during wartime with multiple deployments risking their lives only to be tossed out like garbage. Losing the retirement they have worked years to earn because they didn’t want to take an experimental vaccine for an illness that was mild for fit and healthy people.”
The military has been facing a recruiting crisis, with the Army failing to meet its recruiting goals in 2022 and the Marines, Air Force and Navy all dipping deep into their pools of delayed entry program candidates to scratch by this year, putting them well behind the pace for meeting next year’s goals.
“In the Army’s most challenging recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force, we will only achieve 75% of our fiscal year ’22 recruiting goal,” Wormuth said in a statement after the numbers were publicly released.
While the military has faced several challenges in recent years, including restrictions to entering schools brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and a tight jobs market, many others have pinned the blame for the issue on a culture becoming less focused on winning the nation’s wars.
“How can we ask young men and women who have decided to risk their lives for America, even die for America, to affirm that our country is inherently racist?” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote for Fox News last month. “How can we ask them to view their brothers and sisters in arms through the narrow prisms of race or gender? The clear and obvious answer is that we cannot – not without putting their lives at risk on the battlefield. A woke military is a weak military. Unfortunately, woke and weak are exactly what our military is becoming under Biden’s leadership.”
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Many of the service members reached by Fox News Digital expressed similar concerns, with some saying they would not encourage their children to join the military.
“I would not have my children join for the same reason they are in private schools vs. public schools,” one service member said.
“I couldn’t allow my kids to join the military, and risk having them serve under commanders like I saw on deployments,” another service member said, citing the failures of leadership witnessed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“They’d be better off serving for one of our allies who are focused on defending their country and will come to our aid when our woke and unready force embarrasses itself,” another said.
“Why would I have my kids join an institution who works every day to call them evil and diminish the contributions of their ancestors,” said another.
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Service members also complained of an overly-political culture among the military’s leadership, arguing it has hindered their ability to prepare the country for conflict.
“The DOD is absolutely politicized. No matter what party is in power. Generals have basically become politicians, and ‘yes men’ and will conform to whatever party is in power,” one service member said.
“It seems like in the ’90s, DOD was apolitical, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. It seems like more and more leaders are more overtly supporting a political side, rather than their oath,” another said.
Though most of the members expressed concern about the direction of the military, some shared optimism that the culture could be turned around.
“I still think the military has values that are salvageable,” one service member said.
Others stressed that the military needs to return its focus on the mission in order to turn things around.
“I prefer a military that was more concerned with the standards of the unit, rather than equity,” a service member said, describing those initiatives as “disruptive towards the real training the military should focus on.”
Fox News’ Houston Keene contributed to this report.