Laird, Melvin R. "Equal Opportunity and Race Relations in the Department of Defense."
Commander's Digest. Vol. 12, no. 2. Washington, D.C. GPO, May 18, 1972. P. 1-2.
SuDoc No.: D2.15/2
Article written by then Secretary of Defense, Melvin R. Laird touting the improvements of
race relations in the military.
Equal Opportunity and Race Relations in the Department of Defense.
By Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of Defense
Each year Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird presents a Defense Department Report to Congress.
In his report last year, he said, "Let me candidly tell you that we face some formidable
problems in the manpower area that are not going to be solved overnight. In addition to
complex recruiting and retention problems, we share with the rest of American society the
agonizing problems related to race relations... We in the Department of Defense are determined
to continue leading the way, as best we can, in seeking solutions to these difficult problems.
"The Department of Defense," he reiterated, "is committed to the goal of making
military and civilian service in the Department a model of equal opportunity for all.
"In all my trips to military installations in the U.S. and overseas," Mr. Laird
added, "I have made it a point to talk with thousands of our enlisted men and women.
I have sought particularly to get their views and the views of their commanders on what more
needs to be done to improve equal opportunity in the Armed Forces." These and other
efforts, he pointed out, resulted in a changed DoD policy on equal opportunity and race
relations. In his Defense Report this year (Feb. 15, 1972), Secretary Laird outlined some
of the progress made in these areas. Here are excerpts from his statement.
As we continue to translate the principle of equal opportunity established by the Department's
Human Goals statement into programs designed to increase the quality of military life, we have
relied heavily upon methodologies designed to improve communications while yielding visible,
During the past year, the Military Departments and Defense Agencies initiated important new
policies, including the setting of the numerical goals and timetables for minority employment.
To invigorate managerial interest and compliance with the equal opportunity program, each
military and civilian manager's performance rating now includes an assessment of his
effectiveness in this crucial area. We have also undertaken a detailed review of our equal
opportunity grievance system.
The tangible results of these and earlier policies can be judged by advancements made by
minority-group members within the Department of Defense. These advancements are especially
noteworthy because they occurred during a period when the total manpower strength was declining.
On the civilian side, since Nov. 30, 1969, the numbers of minority-group members in senior
management positions (GS-13 through 15) have risen as follows: blacks by 9.2 per cent, from
977 to 1,067; Spanish-surnamed personnel by 15.6 per cent, from 262 to 303; and Orientals by
6.2 per cent, from 451 to 479.
In the Military Services, the number of individuals of minority groups holding the top enlisted
grades has shown a steady increase. Programs have been developed to increase the number in
hard-skill job fields.
In the officer corps of the Services, six of the officers selected for general or flag rank
were from minority groups, and we continue to increase the input of junior officers from
minority groups through intensified recruiting.
Seven predominantly black colleges have been added to the Reserve Officers Training Corps
program, bringing the number of such schools participating in the program to 26. At the Service
Academies, the current minority enrollment total is 463. The 185 in the entering classes alone
exceed the number of minority graduates during the preceding decade.
Progress in securing the right of all military personnel to available off-base housing has
continued. During the past year the program was extended to overseas areas. In the United
States, as of December 1971, 98 per cent of over 36,000 multi-unit rental facilities surveyed
were pledged to a policy of non-discrimination. During the past two years black military
occupancy of these facilities has increased by nearly 50 per cent.
Despite our efforts in the equal opportunity program and growing understanding on the part of
most members of the Department of Defense of the gravity of the problem of race relations, we
continue to experience a level of disharmony which has the potential for impairing our overall
mission. In addition to renewed command emphasis, we are making new efforts to improve
communications and understanding among the members of the different races through education.
Education in the dynamics of difference is one of the most important steps the Department of
Defense has undertaken. Most people enter military service with insufficient knowledge of,
and appreciation for, the culture, history, experience and sensitivities of persons of other
races to enable them to function well in a multi-racial environment.
In an effort to bridge the communication gap, on June 24, 1971, I established the Defense Race
Relations Institute (DRRI). Located at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, the DRRI graduated
its pilot class on Dec. 10, 1971. Students are drawn from the officer and enlisted ranks of
the Services. Upon completion of the seven-week course they are returned to their units as
race relations instructors.
The Services have introduced ethnic literature, music, foods and cosmetics at commissary and
exchange facilities. Sales in excess of $4 million since the inception of this new program
in 1970 indicate an increased sensitivity on the part of the Services to the minority
serviceman's desires and needs.
The Department has continued to enforce equal opportunity requirements among Defense
contractors. During 1971, under DoD compliance review, total minority employment rose in
the Nation's five largest textile firms from 21,031 to 31,182, an increase of 48 per cent
between 1968 and 1971.
During the same period minority employment gains were achieved by six major DoD aerospace
contractors, despite a 29 per cent decline in their work forces... Our minority employment
objectives have also been attained in most DoD construction projects.
I have often said that people are our most precious asset. The manpower policies of the
Department of Defense will continue to be formulated and carried out with this basic fact
always in mind.