Mission Critical: Inclusive Leadership for the Security Sector
Lieutenant General Stayce D. Harris gave the opening remarks at The German Marshall Fund’s event “Mission Critical: Inclusive Leadership for the Security Sector,” speaking on the inclusive security paradigm and diversity in the U.S. armed forces. Lt. Gen. Harris is assistant vice chief of staff and director of the U.S. Air Force Air Staff.
Thank you, Marc Sasseville, for that kind introduction. Thank you everyone and good morning! I am especially pleased as I look around the room at the diversity of our participants. I want to thank those who worked so hard to make this symposium a reality, especially those who worked behind the scenes to make the magic happen. This is a fantastic event and I am humbled to be part of it. When I looked at the agenda, I realized you will get to hear from a truly amazing lineup of outstanding professionals here and you will also get to hear from me as I offer my perspective on advancing inclusive security.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines work hand-in-hand to form a powerful joint force to defend our nation and support our allies. I am confident we will succeed or fail as a nation based on the strength and capabilities of our men and women in uniform. We are responsible to the American people for deterring war and defending our homeland. In light of this, ensuring diversity and inclusion throughout the personnel management enterprise is a national security imperative.
Diversity of background, culture, thought, and experience breeds strength, and we are obligated to maximize our potential across the board. The U.S. Department of Defense is striving to fully integrate all the diversity the country has to offer, and through inclusiveness, skillfully apply diversity to the complex missions the services must tackle every day. By doing this the U.S. increases its capability and agility, strengthens itself against adversaries, and is a better, more knowledgeable partner with our allies.
The nation’s citizens provide complementary yet different capabilities and skills, much like other elements of our national security, which are all necessary to achieve optimal outcomes:
- Our instruments of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic;
- Our air force missions — air and space superiority, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control;
- Operational effects — kinetic strike, special operations, cyber effects, and many more.
These are all options we, as a national security enterprise, provide for the president to meet our obligations to the nation. We know them well, continually evolve them, and spend vast amounts of time and money ensuring our men and women are deeply familiar with them. If we want to succeed in the future, we must add diversity and inclusion to this list. Diversity and inclusion are critical to our national security and this has become more and more evident as we integrate diversity and inclusion concepts with military doctrine and policy.
We have not seen the global security landscape this volatile in some time, and our country and allies are facing significant global challenges on a number of fronts. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and transnational violent extremism stare us in the face every day. Perhaps equally important, we are also in the midst of what is becoming a generation of refugees as millions are displaced from their homes around the world. These could become our next generation of doctors, entrepreneurs, and artists, or they could become the next front line or lone wolf fighters for terrorist organizations. This all depends on how we, as a global society, handle this massive global migration. We must make our security forces — especially our militaries — destinations of choice for the men and women in these situations who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. We must foster an environment where everyone who puts in the effort can thrive to make our countries safer and our organizations better.
In our global society, it is important that we all, as allies, are strong together. When our societies are stable and thriving and our economies strong and synergized, we can defend ourselves as well as each other from those who would threaten our freedoms. This leads to safe environments for our children to grow, learn, and become the scientists, architects, engineers, and artists that will make the world a better place. If we fail to do this, it is not hard to see the alternative reality we will face — one that puts us on continual war footing for the foreseeable future.
In our history, the United States has tapped into our diverse communities to provide the necessary edge to ensure success for our nation. I am privileged to have these men and women as role models, like Ms. Pauline Cutler White, a former female air force service pilot, and Colonel (retired) Charles McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. These heroes were just two of so many that brought the U.S. to victory in World War II. Think about the critical support the Navajo code talkers provided in WWII; this skill was originally pioneered by Cherokee and Choctaw soldiers during World War I. The critical impact of airmen with diverse experiences is evident today: female engagement teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nepalese-American airmen providing critical engagement when performing earthquake relief operations in Nepal, or Russian language capable airmen deconflicting air operations over Syria. All these skills and backgrounds make us stronger as a service, every day.
Here is what I have seen personally when I worked for the commander of U.S. Africa Command. I traveled to a host of nations on the continent and observed a rapidly changing world. i witnessed many opportunities to shape that world through engagement and partnerships around shared goals. I witnessed our African partners eager to learn from our best practices and we in return learn from theirs.
Diversity is not just about race and gender; inclusion is not just about representation. We need to be looking for the future Stephen Hawkings, Sally Rides, and Neil Degrasse Tysons and getting that kind of talent excited about performing the air force and national security missions. We need to ensure we have airmen of many backgrounds, skills, and perspectives putting all their best energy and intellectual prowess toward our nation’s emerging challenges.
Both positive and negative experiences within our militaries affect our ultimate national security posture. When whole groups of citizens connect uniformed service with positive personal, community, and cultural outcomes they go back to their communities and champion support for the organizations where they were provided the tools to succeed. In contrast, if a community experiences consistent negative outcomes, those groups will not only decline to participate in those organizations, but may work actively against them if they see them as a threat to their families, friends, and neighbors. Ensuring police, fire, and emergency response services are well integrated and communicating transparently with all communities — especially those more ethnically and geographically diverse — is essential for both internal and external national security. When these bodies are not well connected with the communities they serve, distrust and misunderstandings can lead to volatile situations that affect the greater security for all. Connected and integrated security organizations ensure cultural competence underpins everything they do. This cultural competence is key across the board; it decreases risk of adverse effects, distress, and disorder due to lack of understanding and awareness, and increases chances of successful crisis response outcomes. Community engagement by local uniformed services also has direct effect on the ability of federal entities to recruit from that community.
That being said, I will end with an extract from our national security strategy: “American exceptionalism (noting all our nations are exceptional) is not rooted solely in the strength of our arms or economy. Above all, it is the product of our founding values, including the rule of law and universal rights, as well as the grit, talent, and diversity of the American people.” We need this grit, talent, and diversity more than ever in our national security personnel. We must get diversity and inclusion right. America’s security, your nation’s security, and our cooperative security depend on it.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.