Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, weighed in on the NFL's national anthem protests and August's rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia with a statement that reaffirms what the U.S. military stands for.
In remarks to academy’s prep school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that were released to the public on Thursday, Silveria made it clear to the 5,000 cadets that racial defamation is not tolerated in the U.S. military.
“If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
Silveria's remarks come in the aftermath of racially inflammatory remarks found on military white boards of five cadets:
“We would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic. We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country, things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.”
American service personnel are all in the same boat and do not have time for the ignorance of racial bigotry. One father of a cadet summed it up well to the Air Force Times:
“The [n-word] has zero power in my house. Zero power. The word is not going to yield a reaction. My initial advice to him was, respond with intelligence, do not react, do not get upset. You don‘t have to defend intelligence, you don’t have to defend common sense, you don’t have to defend confidence. He’s fine.”
The U.S. military is one of the most diverse institutions in the nation. As Pew Research reported in April 2017:
Racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015, up from 25% in 1990. (In 2015, 44% of all Americans ages 18 to 44 were racial or ethnic minorities.)
The military is thus almost a perfect mirror image of society by racial and ethnic demographics. Women are volunteering for inclusion at higher rates as well:
Overall, 15% of DOD active-duty military personnel are women, up from 11% in 1990. In 2015, 17% of active-duty officers were female – up from their share of 12% in 1990. And 15% of enlisted personnel were female in 2015, up from 11% in 1990.
In order to have a unified fighting force, the U.S. military cannot tolerate bigotry. The military has thus been one of the most “progressive” institutions for decades, but without the help of activists. The pressures for inclusion and open opportunities in the military ranks have come organically and have arisen because of its institutional mission: Fight and win wars.
One of the most memorable cultural references to this military mission came from the 1987 smash hit film “Full Metal Jacket,” which featured R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman chewing out Marine recruits (expletives redacted):
“There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on [expletives deleted]. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps.”
The military is far from the only diverse institution in the U.S. The NFL has made hundreds of racial and ethnic minorities millionaires for decades because of its market-based and merit-based incentives. This is one reason the NFL is being targeted by activists: It undermines its power as an example of free-market opportunity.
Silveria's speech is a powerful reminder that our military has zero tolerance for racial division in its ranks. If America is ever going to have a more just society, we need to make sure we are unified as a nation behind the freedom our flag and anthem represent.