Many decades after the American civil rights movement, the US military continues to benefit from a diverse fighting force and this has expanded beyond the ranks of the military into the public. Few can speak more candidly on this topic than military veterans who have experience life in uniform and beyond having returned to civilian life at the completion of military service.
Serving in the armed forces is an especially unique American experience as it brings together people from all over the country. They are stripped of their customary attire, hairstyles, friends, and leisure pursuits. This mixed up group of men and women becomes unified. They wear one uniform. They are united with one purpose...the defense of our great nation. This experience of losing your "costume" in exchange for another is transformational and immediately creates a sense of equality that is nearly impossible to replicate.
However, the military is not perfect and despite incredible progress, there are instances where racism continues to exist. The good news is that the Department of Defense has zero tolerance for it and disciplines aggressively when instances occur.
Victor was born in Trinidad and Tobago, raised in Maryland, and went on to serve in the US Navy before becoming a Flags of Valor craftsman. To say the least he's seen A LOT. In addition to completing two combat tours, he visited 26 different countries. When asked how diversity impacts the military mission he says "The easiest way to sum this up, is that if you are not open to differences and cultural changes, the military is not for you." And that "The Military is the ABSOLUTE most diverse place I have ever been. My experience with diversity has taught me acceptance, understanding, and humility. It made me HUMBLE..."
When reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr's impact, Victor says "Being African American myself, Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy has helped clear the path for many generations of young people EVERYWHERE. Not just African American, but Asian, Indian, Caucasian, etc... He helped everyone open their eyes to realize that we are ALL created equal. No one Race or religion is better than the other."
Eric W's Experience
Eric was born and raised in Clarke County Virginia and went on to serve in the US Army including multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to finding the military more diverse than where he grew up, he felt it had a real positive impact on the mission. "Diversity brings in different thought processes, cultures, problem-solving skills and experiences into one group. Allowing different avenues of approach to accomplish tasks and missions."
"Diversity allowed me to be more open-minded to understand different cultures and individual backgrounds. Which gave me the understanding of the organization's culture (when I was a team leader and a squad leader). This understanding allowed me to grasp how individuals are going to respond or react from a simple form of communication, for example."
Andre was born and raised in Prince Georges County, Maryland and served in the US Army. He earned his Combat Infantry Badge while serving in combat in Afghanistan. He found the military much more diverse than where he grew up in a predominantly African American neighborhood. Initially this transition was difficult, but became easier "once...adapting to the military culture." He believes diversity has a real impact on mission... "considering the military is made up of people from a variety of different cultures. One must be willing to understand and accept any differences in order to adapt to the military culture."
Andre fully admits his experience as an African American soldier in the US Army was not perfect. In part, he carried particular stereotypes of others with him into the service and similarly experienced stereotypes applied against himself. Despite this, he was able to find a resolution and a strong bond with his fellow service members...a devotion to mission that united everyone.
Eric B's Experience
Eric grew up in Oakland Park, Illinois, and served in the Air Force including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served in one of the most diverse military specialties, vehicle maintenance. In his experience people worked "together as a team to accomplish the mission, use the strengths of those to help the others that were not as strong in those areas." Although the military was more diverse than where he grew up, he was ready. He was raised to "treat everyone with respect, no matter what." His experience may not have changed his perspectives, but he fully acknowledges the many benefits of working together with people from all walks of life. This experience was even more rewarding in the challenging environments at war.