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Diversity in U.S., Partner Militaries Is a Strategic Strength

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 21, 2022) -- Diversity in the U.S. military and in the militaries of partner nations is a strategic imperative, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command said.

"The bottom line for diversity, equity, and inclusion [is] a lethal, agile and resilient joint force, but a joint force that can manage the strategic environment and these complex situations," Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost said yesterday, adding that it will take a diverse group of people, with diverse ways of thinking and diverse experiences to be successful in an increasingly complex strategic environment.

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Speaking at the Air and Space Forces Association's 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Van Ovost cited the book "Divided Armies: Inequality and Battlefield Performance in Modern War," by Jason Lyall, as providing examples of how diversity in a military force provides the strength needed to win in combat.

"He looked back in the last 200 years on battles around the globe," she said. "What he did was he linked the citizen status within the nation and in their military to battlefield performance."

The author's research revealed that internal discrimination with a military force leads to defeat on the battlefield, Van Ovost said.

"You don't see any of those results when you have a more inclusive force," she said. "That's what we want to avoid is over time if we don't have that diverse recruit ... we could be in for failure into the future. It is a strategic imperative that we have and raise an army that is reflective of our nation and reflects the core values for which our nation was founded."

It's not enough that the U.S. alone be involved in having a diverse military, the general said. The U.S. military must set an example so that allies and partner nations are also drawing on all the capacity, skill and diversity in their own nations, so when working together, everybody brings the best possible force to the table.

One example of that kind of effort, Van Ovost said, is the Defense Department's progress toward advancing the goals of the U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Strategy. DOD participates in that effort with the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Homeland Security.

"We deployed gendered advisors to support the Afghan refugees flow, really to communicate and support them as they were going through the process," she said. "And this program is led by the combatant commands. So, we send out officer [and] enlisted leaders to go to different countries to help them understand better ... how to manage all of their resources and how to be more effective as a team in leadership. And it's making a difference."

In Chad, Ghana, El Salvador and other places, the work is making a difference, Van Ovost said.

"It's American leadership," she said. "And when we can do it right here, we are that beacon. And we can translate and show them those policies and show them the way that they can do it."

As an example, Colombian officials last week announced the appointment of the first female, senior-enlisted advisor to their chief of defense, Van Ovost said.

"That's a huge step there," she said. "Just like we want to use 100% of what is in America, we want to use 100% of what our allies and partners can bring to the fight every day. And it truly makes a difference. So, as I think about, it takes this team from recruiting all the way to force development, to continued development in your career, to then showing our allies and partners what it is we can do. And that's the value factor for what we're talking about."

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