WASHINGTON — The nation’s top military brass gathered in the Pentagon auditorium Monday to pull out their pens and sign a ceremonial document vowing to “create an inclusive environment that values diversity and fosters mutual respect and cooperation among all persons.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey led the signing of the 2014 Human Goals Charter: “the cornerstone document governing the Defense Department’s fair treatment of people, as well as its diversity and equity programs.”
The document was updated this year to reflect the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military.
“This ceremony, as has been noted, marks an important milestone in our efforts to ensure that the Department of Defense remains a place of progress, progress in opportunity for all people, military and civilian. Today, we reaffirm that our most important resource is our people,” Hagel said. “I know all the leaders in this room and all over the world share our belief that you take care of your people first, and to fulfill that commitment, we must ensure that every man and every woman in this department has the opportunity to succeed, excel and reach their full potential. That is the purpose of DOD’s Human Goals Charter.”
Printed on parchment-style paper, Hagel noted that “the values expressed in the charter are as old as America itself.”
The charter states that “our nation was founded on the principle that each individual has infinite dignity and worth,” and stresses that the Pentagon must recognize the “individual needs, aspirations, and capabilities” of its service members and civilian employees.
“We gain a strategic advantage through the diversity of our total force and create a culture of inclusion where individuals are drawn to serve, are valued, and actively contribute to overall mission success.”
Among the vows listed to attain those goals are ensuring “that equal opportunity is an integral part of readiness” and to “make military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.”
It says the DoD will strive “to provide equity in civilian employment regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or genetic information, without reprisal” and to “hold those who do business with or receive assistance from the Department to full compliance with its equal opportunity policies,” as well as “create an inclusive environment that values diversity and fosters mutual respect and cooperation among all persons.”
It was signed by the military and civilian leaders of all of the service branches as well as top Pentagon officials.
Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said the event “highlights the department’s unwavering commitment to its people, to diversity, and to inclusion.”
“Honestly, ladies and gentlemen, having these goals is really very good, but being able to say that this department is the frontrunner in these goals is exactly what we can be proud of today. This has been an unprecedented era of change, truly, since the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948 to the accomplishments of the present,” Wright added.
That includes, she said, “fundamental changes in our views of sexual orientation.”
“We have extended the benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed servicemembers and the department’s civilian employees. We have and we will continue to open military positions to servicemembers who were able to perform those duties, regardless of their gender, and those are just a few of the accomplishments,” Wright continued. “…Diversity is more than race or gender or religion. It’s a variety or mixture of thought. It’s the variety and mixture of ability, background, language, culture and skill. Fairness and dignity and respect and cooperation are among all members of our department, and that is an integral part of our mission accomplishment.”
The undersecretary said the charter is relevant to everyone in the DoD, because “it’s relevant to respect everyone in the department regardless of their race, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, national orientation, religion, or gender.”
Dempsey noted how, 67 years ago in June, President Harry Truman spoke at the Lincoln Memorial about making federal government “a friendly, vigilant defender of the rights and equalities of all Americans.”
“It’s my view, as it was with President Truman, that we cannot afford attacks of prejudice or discrimination. The opportunity of service must reinforce what is best about America. We must always show the way,” the chairman said. “I’m exceedingly proud of DoD’s commitment, both recently and throughout our history, to safeguard the dignity and the worth of every single servicemember and civilian who volunteers selflessly to serve our nation. I’m also proud of this department’s willingness and wisdom to continually advance this cause.”
Hagel said the charter ceremony was important to highlight that the department recognizes “what makes America unique, what gives us strength is our ability to self-correct.”
“Our democracy is imperfect. All democracies are imperfect. But we have shown we can change. We have the process. We have the fiber. We have the people. We have the system to change for the better, and we have,” the Defense secretary said. “We possess an ability and a system to correct our course. That’s why I’m very proud, I’m proud that the language of the charter has been updated to reflect the contributions of gay and lesbian military personnel, who now serve openly and proudly across America’s armed forces. As the charter says, we will continue striving to make military service a model — a model of equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.”
“That’s who we are. That’s who we are as a country and who we must be as a military… We must reinforce a culture of accountability, dignity, and respect across DoD and for all people. That is a top priority for all of us. Every person who serves our country in uniform has stepped forward with courage and commitment. Their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country, and their qualifications to do so — that’s what matters, nothing else.”
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby noted in the early evening that Hagel took time to speak by phone today with Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoygu.
“The two leaders discussed a wide range of issues related to the situation in Ukraine, with Sec. Hagel requesting clarification of Russia’s intentions in Eastern Ukraine. Minister Shoygu reiterated his assurance that Russian forces would not invade Ukraine,” Kirby said. “Sec. Hagel emphasized how dangerous the situation remains and expressed his desire to find a responsible way forward.”