Fiscal Year 1999: Acceptance of Minorities and Women

Chapter 1

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A diverse cadre of military members stands ready for the 21st century. Men and women from majority and minority racial and ethnic groups train and perform their duties within a multitude of occupational specialties so as to accomplish military missions on land, at sea, and in the air. People from various social lines and geographic areas manage, operate, maintain, and coordinate complicated weapon systems gaining critical experience as they progress through the ranks. Their contributions to national defense are even more impressive given the sacrifices they are called upon to make.

To be sure, military life is honorable, but it can also be arduous. Recruiting and retention success is affected by the benefits and burdens of service. The representation of minority members, women and married members with dependents is vital to accomplishing today’s warfighting, peacekeeping, humanitarian, and other missions. Although it may be a departure from the military’s single white male manpower roots, diversity in the forces is now a fact. The demographic and background characteristics of modern military personnel are far from novel. What the statistics in this report should convey is the necessity of accepting and providing for a diverse force.

Blacks maintain their strong military presence in the enlisted ranks, at levels higher than population proportions. This minority group has achieved representation parity in the officer corps. Hispanics and other racial/ethnic minorities remain underrepresented but are making gains within the enlisted ranks and officer corps. Hispanic representation is important to monitor in light of their increasing population proportions and related issues of citizenship, English language proficiency, and high school graduation rates.

Unlike racial and ethnic minorities, the role of women in the military is still unsettled if not controversial. Although women comprise half of the youth population, in FY 1999, they made up only 18 and 20 percent of enlisted and officer accessions, respectively. However, these figures are all-time highs in the representation of women entering the military. Before the All Volunteer Force, in FY 1964, less than 1 percent of enlisted accessions were women. Women climbed to 5 percent in 1973 and shortly thereafter, they topped the 10-percent benchmark. Today, that figure has almost doubled, even in the face of a more streamlined force.

Although much progress has been achieved with regard to gender equity, much work remains. For example, gender-integration in basic training remains contested despite the fact that a 1999 Congressional Commission ruled favorably on this issue after considering a multitude of evidence. [1] Although the representation of women has increased and many previously closed positions have been opened to women, the military is (and must continue) considering current and future roles for women in uniform. Today, there is discussion of the potential assignment of women aboard submarines. Such deliberations are evidence of the significant presence, contributions, and progress of women in the military.

[1] Congressional Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues, Final Report: Findings and Recommendations (Arlington, VA: Author, July 1999).

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