An 18-year-old woman in the South Dakota National Guard was required to shower with biological men during basic training, but was afraid to complain about the situation, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Tuesday at a Senate hearing.
The hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee was to consider President Joe Biden’s nomination of Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is retiring.
Although much of the hearing focused on military readiness, as Brown would be taking the top military position in the United States, several senators asked about DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion policies—in the Defense Department.
“While the service has struggled to meet recruiting numbers, there has been an increased emphasis on immutable characteristics like race and sex, and the department has increasingly focused on new policy and plans in areas like equity, extremism, gender ideology, abortion, and sex change operations,” Rounds said during Brown’s confirmation hearing. “There is even growing bureaucracy that focuses on these specific issues.”
Rounds said the situation of an 18-year-old “girl” in the South Dakota National Guard came to his attention only recently.
Recounting her story, the South Dakota Republican said “she was sleeping in open bays and showering with biological males who had not had gender reassignment surgery, but were documented as females because they had begun the drug therapy process.”
“This 18-year-old girl was uncomfortable with her situation, but had limited options on how to deal with it. If she raised her hand, she feared he would be targeted for retaliation,” Rounds said, noting that she also worried that making a complaint also might delay the start of her freshman year of college.
She could request to leave the Guard for religious purposes and not be able to pursue her dream of serving our country. Gen. Brown, this is a challenging situation. If confirmed as the chairman, how do you propose to handle situations like this, which I truly believe may be impacting recruitment and morale by placing a disproportionate interest on gender-related ideology?
Brown responded by saying he would “take a look” at policies.
“Senator, one of the things I’ve thought about throughout my career [is that] as you are being inclusive, you also don’t want to make other individuals uncomfortable,” Brown told Rounds. “So, as we look at our policy and approaches and get feedback like this, we have to take a look and see if we can improve on how we approach situations like this. As I’ve done as service chief, as I’ve done throughout my career, if confirmed, I will continue to do so.”
Brown, who joined the Air Force in 1984, has piloted a F-16 and trained others to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. He has more than 3,000 flying hours, including 130 combat hours, according to the Air Force.
Brown currently is chief of staff for the Air Force, the top spot, to which President Donald Trump appointed him in 2020. He has been a controversial nominee for Biden based on his comments about race, and for signing on to a memo last August from senior Air Force and Space Force leadership calling for a more diverse set of officers.
In addition to Brown, the memo was signed by Space Force Gen. John W. Raymond, chief of space operations; Secretary of the Air Force Gen. Frank Kendall; and Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones.
On Monday, the day before Brown’s confirmation hearing, the American Accountability Foundation, a government watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Office of Air Force Inspector General, citing past comments suggesting that, as the top official in the Air Force, Brown hired and promoted based on racial considerations.
Examples in the complaint include a 2021 People magazine interview that quotes Brown as saying that “we’ve got to closely manage our diverse populations.”
An article in The Washington Post, also from 2021, quotes Brown as saying, “The other thing that we have to do is ensure that we have diversity on the [military advisory] boards, but also diversity on the candidate list.”
The complaint to the Pentagon’s inspector general also quotes an interview with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in November 2020, when Brown flatly said, “I hire for diversity.” He also said: “I purposely build my office, my front office, and my team with diverse” backgrounds.
Also Monday, leaders of conservative organizations, along with more than a dozen retired military leaders, signed a letter to senators asking that senators explore Brown’s focus on DEI.
“Controversies about divisive critical race theory (CRT) programs, which pit racial groups against each other, plus demographic diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) quotas that prolong racial discrimination and weaken meritocracy in the military, are demoralizing the troops,” the letter says. “At the same time, the armed forces are wasting time and resources on expensive climate change projects and alienating traditional families by indulging extreme demands from LGBT activists trying to extend their leftist agendas to children.”
Although the letter from conservative leaders and retired brass doesn’t outright oppose Brown’s nomination to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it makes their support conditional.
“We hope that members of the Senate will do what they can to ensure that the best military leaders available will have all the support they need to defend America in an increasingly dangerous world,” the letter to senators says. “We also hope that Gen. Brown will commit to reducing or eliminating problematic personnel issues that affect readiness and morale, including those referenced above. If not, senators should vote against this nomination.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, praised DEI policies in the military.
“For almost four decades now, you have built inclusive, diverse, and ready teams in the Air Force, and I assume you will support such teams throughout the DOD,” Hirono told Brown early in the hearing.
“You gave me an example of how important DEI programs—as we refer to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs—are in the military. Could you share with this committee what you shared with me yesterday?” she continued.
Brown defined this view as providing a fair opportunity.
“I think about for my own career and all of our members, all they want is a fair opportunity to perform. By providing that fair opportunity, they do not want to be advantaged or disadvantaged, or discounted based on their background,” Brown told Hirono. “They want to have the opportunity, but they’ve got to be qualified. I will tell you from my own career, when I came in, I didn’t want to be the best African American F-16 pilot. I wanted to be the best F-16 pilot.”
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., brought up concerns about an Aug. 9 memo from Brown and others about aspirational goals for recruiting diverse officers.
“General, do we have too many white officers in the Air Force?” Schmitt asked.
Brown answered: “Senator, what I look at is the quality of all the officers we have. We look at the aspects of everyone who is qualified, meets the qualification.”
Schmitt then said: “In your Aug. 9 memo, you signed onto that there should be a reduction, essentially, of about 9% of white officers. That’s 5,400. This is the real impact of this desire of the [Biden] administration. I’m saddened to see this, in this memo, this obsession with race-based politics being interjected into our military.”
The Missouri Republican went on to ask how the memo determined that the pool of Air Force officers should be 67.5% white; 13% black; 10% Asian; 1.5% American Indian or Native Alaskan; 1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; and 15% Hispanic or Latino.
“Senator, that memo is based on application goals, not the actual officers,” Brown answered. “Those numbers are based on the demographics of the nation.”
After some back and forth, the nominee said: “Senator, what we looked at was the aspect of providing opportunity for anybody who wants to serve this country.”
Schmitt shot back: “If that is what was in this memo, I wouldn’t be asking these questions.”
He said the Biden administriton had injected abortion, COVID-19, and DEI politics into the military.
“It is a cancer on the best military in the history of the world. Those men and women deserve better than this,” Schmitt said, adding:
We ought to have the broadest pool of applicants and get the best and the brightest, and we ought to be recruiting in various areas to make sure we have the best and the brightest from every community, regardless of your race or your gender or ethnicity. But that’s not what DEI is. DEI is an ideology based in cultural Marxism.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, pushed the point that the military doesn’t officially have quotas.
“We do not have quotas. That is against our policy for us to have quotas,” the Air Force general said.
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