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Diversity and the Marine Corps

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Given what's been going on in most cities across America over the past few days, we wanted to take a moment to discuss diversity in the Marine Corps. Although we have traditionally been the slowest to integrate and adapt to social norms, the Marine Corps has done a good job of integrating its forces. There is still room for improvement, but we are proud of the Marine Corps' progress and believe the institution is working to make things better every day. The best Marines know that we are all different shades of the same color - Marine Green.


For many years, the United States Armed Forces have been essential for social change in the nation. From racial integration following World War II, to the inclusion of women in combat roles, the military has been a constant reflection of the changing social norms of the nation. To ensure such changes are rapidly and wholly adopted throughout the services, service-members in each branch are indoctrinated to a set of values and principles which promote tolerance and equal treatment of all members.

The Marine Corps is composed of citizens and residents from every American state and territory. This has also included immigrants wanting to serve their newly adopted country. Beginning in San Diego, Parris Island, and Quantico, Marines will be surrounded by peers of different races, who speak different languages, practice different religions, are of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and so much more. Due to this melting pot which begins at recruit training and Officer Candidates School, recruits and officer candidates bring with them tens of thousands of new perspectives on race, sexuality, religion and many other aspects. In its history, the Marine Corps has been no stranger to the difficulties associated with such a blending of people.


Since the Marine Corps first allowed the enlistment of black, Native American, Asian, and other non-white service-members in the 1940s, there have been instances of violence, institutionalized racism, and various other roadblocks to success for people of color. Additionally, many women have suffered harassment, prohibition from numerous military occupational specialties, and a culture of exclusion. Furthermore, gay and lesbian Marines were forced to live in fear of reprisal and ostracism for their sexual preference under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Even in 2020, some Marines may encounter racial prejudices and moral disagreements which will cause mistrust, and sometimes even violence.


The Marine Corps is made of tens of thousands different Americans. For many recruits, recruit training may be their first time away from home. It may be the first time a city kid from the northeast meets a country boy from the south or a farmer from the Midwest. At recruit training, recruits might meet their first Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, or Jew. Being between 17 and 27 years old, many of these recruits have not met many folks outside their neighborhoods. Some people may bring their prejudices from home with them, while others will learn to love each other as brothers and sisters through the shared struggles of recruit training. These growing pains are part of individual growth and adopting our core values, which changes in the Marine Corps as Marines mature, spend more time with each other.


In the fleet, Marines of all colors and genders will be serving side-by-side. Any combination of racial, religious, ethnic and regional backgrounds will be found should you join. A white man from Mississippi and a Hispanic woman from New York could find themselves serving together on a team in a combat zone as easily as a Pacific Islander and African immigrant, so cultural stereotypes must be brushed aside in favor of unit cohesion and mission accomplishment. Marines take pride in mission success and will not allow divisions along identity lines prevent them from successful completion.

To combat the institutional and cultural issues which historically stifled diversity in the Marine Corps and the entire Department of Defense (DoD), many pieces of key legislation were passed to provide all people an opportunity to grow and be successful as Marines. In 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which ceased the institutional discrimination "on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin" in the military, years ahead of the sweeping Civil Rights Acts of the following decades. In 1963, facilities in the service previously segregated based upon race were forbidden by order of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter negated a 1994 decision to bar women from combat roles, by opening all combat specialties to female service-members. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 killed policies across the DoD which barred lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from enlisting or openly serving in the military.


With the ethical and moral rudder steers of key legislation and DoD policy, the Marine Corps has taken numerous steps to create a culture in which all service-members can serve without institutional roadblocks. From the moment recruits arrive in Parris Island or San Diego, they are told to treat all others with courtesy and respect. Recruits will spend many hours in lecture on topics such as Equal Opportunity, Core Values, Sexual Harassment and Assault, and Ethics. They will then conduct numerous guided discussions led by their Drill Instructors, who will moderate conversation and debate between recruits. Officer candidates will also partake in similar training and discussion. Moreover, Marine leadership has provided further guidance on how Marines are to conduct themselves on social media and has prohibited the display of certain discriminatory imagery and symbology aboard Marine Corps installations.

Due to our nations great diversity, the Marine Corps introduces each recruit and officer candidate to our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment very early in their training. By doing so, the Corps is able to utilize a symbiotic, yet individually diverse pool of manpower to become increasingly lethal and capable. In these troubled times, where our country is faced with racial, political, and socioeconomic divides, it is important that each potential, currently serving, and separated Marine remember that all are welcome and equal in our country's Marine Corps. We have had fantastic leaders and served with tremendous Marines from every walk of life. It's something that makes military service so special. The Marine Corps will maintain its stance of zero tolerance towards individual or systemic prejudices which seek to demean or exclude any member of the service.


Or, in the infamous words of the late R. Lee Ermy, we are all "equally worthless."


Semper Fi.


Further Reading and Perspectives on this Topic:

Marine Corps by Gender, Race and Ethnicity

The Marine Corps: Always faithful — to white men

Race and the Marine Corps

Fourteen women have tried, and failed, the Marines’ Infantry Officer Course. Here’s why.

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