President Donald Trump has tried to eradicate some diversity training programs in the federal government, including the Pentagon.
But now a former Army Ranger and Democratic member of Congress is fighting back.
On Thursday, Jason Crow (D-CO), MP, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and is a veteran of the Iraq war, plans to introduce new laws that will mandate a stricter diversity training program for troops and civilian personnel. and contractors in the Department of Defense. A draft law was communicated to me before the final version was published.
While members of the service are already completing legally mandated diversity training, the Military Justice, Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Act (REMEDI) would update the current language to ensure that the programs deal with issues such as racism, discrimination on the basis of general and sexual orientation, unconscious bias and equal opportunity. The measure would also increase the number of people who receive such training and where they receive it, for example during their professional military training.
The aim is not only to create a better understanding of diversity problems in the American armed forces, of which, for example, 43 percent are colored people. The point is to anchor their importance throughout the military.
"We are nowhere near enough to say that diversity and inclusion are an important part of our armed forces," said Crow. "It's just as important how you throw a hand grenade as you shoot a rifle and how you make a bed. In fact, it's a lot more important than those things."
The decision to introduce the measure was made in part in response to Trump's Executive Order, signed in September, prohibiting the training of critical racial theories in federal departments, which would counteract this bill. Pentagon staff told me that this had no real impact on their diversity programming, but some feared that racism issues could be removed from the agenda. It also comes after an investigation at Fort Hood sparked by the murder of 20-year-old soldier Vanessa Guillén, which highlighted many longstanding problems in the military.
But not everyone is convinced of the need for Crow's bill. Three current and former troops – including two men and two black people – told me that they are already receiving decent diversity training and that it is easy enough to click through without taking in the information. Crow legislation doesn't address that, they claimed. "What is proposed doesn't really change anything," one service member told me on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
And Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told me he believed that President-elect Biden would himself overturn Trump's executive order, which makes Crow's move somewhat controversial.
But the Colorado representative told me that his personal experiences in the military make it clear why diversity – and therefore his account – is important.
"One of the strengths of our military is its diversity"
During the invasion of Iraq, Crow led a train in part of southern Baghdad. As a 24-year-old infantry officer, he took on a role blending the duties of mayor, city council member and chief of police and deciding on issues such as oil and property rights.
Without a diverse team around him – people of different races, beliefs, and origins – Crow would not have been able to do his job. Those on his platoon "were essential to getting things done by looking at things from different angles," he told me.
That experience spoke of the essence of what the American armed forces are to him. "One of the strengths of our military is diversity," he said. “We were therefore a better team. … The military should be our standard bearer for our country and our values. "
It's unclear whether Crow's bill, which he co-sponsors with Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA), would make it through Congress. If that fails as a standalone measure, plans are in place to include the provision in next year’s billions of dollars in annual defense policy bill, though its success as part of these efforts is far from certain.
There is also the possibility that the bill could become a political obligation for the legislature. He is the first Democrat to represent his district in suburban Denver, a very diverse military community since it was founded in 1982. A bill that Republicans might view as "identity politics" could undermine his re-election efforts.
Crow isn't buying this. "It's not an identity policy bill," he said. “It's a training and readiness bill. It's a national security bill.” He continued, “When I decide to do something, I'm in it and the people in my community know where I am.”
Whether his constituents, other lawmakers and the military itself stand by him will be the question as soon as his bill comes out.
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