General David H. Berger, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he has seen “zero evidence” supporting claims that the military’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program —which critics have accused of being “woke”—have hindered the military’s overall readiness for battle.
Berger appeared for an interview with Defense One on Thursday to discuss the state of the Marine Corps.
During the interview, reporter Caitlin Kenney asked Berger about concerns shared by some U.S. lawmakers that engaging in DEI training is a distraction from the military’s warfighting training. Berger disputed that notion in his response, saying he has seen no evidence to support such claims.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to make sure that the unit is prepared for combat. That’s why we have a Marine Corps, to try to prevent a conflict and if one comes to make sure that we win,” Berger said. “So building cohesive teams is part of that. I have seen zero evidence of any policies that detract from that.”
Berger said he travels on a weekly basis to review the Marine Corps’ capabilities and “I’m looking for anything that distracts them from their warfighting focus,” but he said he hasn’t seen anything to cause concern so far.
DEI’s Impact on Retention and Recruiting
Further disputing the premise that DEI is hurting readiness, Berger argued that if there was any actual concern within the ranks about DEI training, the military would be struggling with retention.
“If they sense that the focus was not in fact on being prepared, being ready, but the focus was on other things and it was distracting … I think they would leave. And that’s not the case at all,” Berger said. “In fact, retention last year exceeded our goals. This year, [the Marine Corps is] way in front of last year. Just the opposite has happened. People want to stay in the Marine Corps.”
The Marine Corps reported it hit its Fiscal Year 2022 retention goal in mid-July, two and a half months before the fiscal year ended in September. It was the first time the service hit its retention goal in 10 years.
While Berger pointed to troop retention as his metric to assert that DEI training is not having a negative impact on the military, critics of DEI training have pointed to the recent recruiting shortfalls as an indicator that DEI programs are indeed undermining the military.
In addition to meeting its retention goals, the Marine Corps was one of the few U.S. military branches that hit all of its recruiting goals in fiscal year 2022.
The U.S. Navy hit its recruiting goal for active-duty enlisted personnel, but missed its goals for recruiting new active and reserve officers and reserve enlisted personnel. The U.S. Air Force also met its active-duty recruiting goals but missed its recruiting goals for the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
The U.S. Army missed its active-duty recruiting goal by a full 25 percent, falling 15,000 recruits short of its 60,000 recruit goal for fiscal year 2022.
“Wokeness at the DoD has harmed recruitment, retention, and morale,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote in a February press statement addressing the Army’s recruiting shortfalls. Banks is the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and is a U.S. Navy Reserve officer.
The Army has disputed the idea that “woke” programs are specifically to blame for its recruiting shortfalls. The Army recently shared some select internal survey results with the Associated Press, claiming its recruiting shortfalls have less to do with “wokeness” and more to do with potential recruits’ perceptions that military service is not relevant to their life or too potentially dangerous to be worth considering. The Army has not publicly released the full results of these survey findings.