Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson, left, and Gen. Joseph M. Martin, Vice Chief of Staff

Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson, left, and Gen. Joseph M. Martin, Vice Chief of Staff, answer questions during a social-media-broadcasted Association of the U.S. Army discussion on race in the Army June 17.

ARLINGTON – Two of the Army’s most senior leaders urged supervisors to sit down with their teams and listen to them following recent tragic events that have sparked nationwide protests.

Since the Army is a people business, Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson said that discussions are the lifeblood of strengthening relationships.

“We need leaders across all levels of the Army to check in with their squads,” he said. “The Army must have conversations on race, and we need you to lead those important conversations.”

McPherson and Gen. Joseph M. Martin, Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, shared their previously recorded remarks June 17 during a social-media-broadcasted Association of the U.S. Army discussion on race in the Army.

In the video, both leaders answered a variety of questions relating to concerns of racial inequality throughout the force. One of them was the lack of minority leaders serving as general officers.

The Army has several ongoing initiatives to boost diversity within its ranks, McPherson said. Among them is the new Army People Strategy, which includes goals and objectives to improve not only diversity but also equity and inclusion.

In addition, the Army is revamping its outreach to historically black colleges and universities. “That’s a wealth of talent there that we have not touched sufficiently in the past, and we endeavor to do that in the future,” he said.

As for gender equality, the Army frequently uses the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, which provides recommendations on matters and policies on the recruitment, retention, employment, integration, well-being and treatment of service women. The Army secretary and chief of staff also have recently signed a memorandum to form a working group that will explore diversity expansion and how to make current efforts stronger.

“This is something you can’t fix with one action,” Martin pointed out. “It takes a series of actions over time.”

The general said the Army has continually taken much care to ensure it retains a highly talented, diverse officer corps. This starts at the cadet training programs where there are efforts to ensure all of the Army branches are appropriately represented by the diverse Soldiers who come up through them.

The new Battalion Commander Assessment Program also has implemented several measures to prevent any potential bias in the promotion process. Documents on those going through the process are redacted, for instance, to leave out details on their gender, race or branch.

“You don’t know who they are; all you know is what they’ve done,” Martin said, adding there is a screen that separates the interviewers and interviewee. When asked afterward, most of the interviewers failed to correctly guess the specific race of the person they just interviewed.

“It’s a pretty fair process we’ve put together,” the general confirmed.

Statistically speaking, he continued, there wasn’t a significant difference in the first BCAP this year compared to similar board processes over the past five years.

“We’re pretty comfortable with the measures we’ve put in place,” Martin said, “but we’ll continue to monitor them as we move forward.”

Both leaders also spoke of how recruiting can help provide more diversity within the enlisted ranks. In 2018, the Army announced a program to target 22 cities where past recruiting efforts have not done well, and provide more outreach to them as part of a re-energized approach.

“We’re putting a tremendous number of assets into those 22 large cities across our country so that we are a reflection of that society,” McPherson said.

Martin has even chosen his hometown of Detroit to become the unofficial 23rd city.

“I have made that my home effort to assist with the recruiting effort there,” he said. “It’s these homegrown initiatives that allow us to continue to improve the quality of the troops that we bring in, (and) the diversity of the troops we bring in.”

There also was discussion on how to improve the disparities of punitive actions applied to minority service members.

“We all take an oath to the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is to ensure justice and equality,” said McPherson, who previously served as the Navy’s judge advocate general.

The military, he further elaborated, recently discovered in a 2019 Government Accountability Office report that the services have failed to keep adequate data and statistics on criminal investigations, making it difficult to track possible disparities.

“So, we are instituting new data collection and standardization (in order to) capture those investigative statistics. (From there,) we can take a more careful look at ourselves and ensure that we are being just and fair in our investigations,” he said.

As recent events have caused the nation to pause, Martin issued a challenge for leaders to actively speak with their squad. A few weeks ago, he said he did the same with Soldiers from his office, which allowed them to talk about their various backgrounds and experiences.

“I got to know my people better. I got to know what they’ve experienced in their lives, and I got to see something way (beyond) the uniform that I wouldn’t have seen had I not had the conversation in the first place,” he said.

“After some real talk, and even some tears, we reassured each other that we’d get through this together as a team so we could continue our duty to protect the nation.”

The meaningful discussion, he added, inspired him to encourage other leaders to hear the concerns their subordinates also may be ready to share.

“This is your opportunity to get to know your Soldiers better,” he said of the discussions. “The key is to sit down and just listen.”