Pentagon Disbands DEI Unit Amid Criticism and Controversy
The Pentagon recently announced its decision to disband the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) unit. The move will see DEI specialists dispersed across existing departments, such as Research, Accountability, and Evaluation; Strategic and Organizational Excellence; Professional Learning; and Human Resources. The restructuring is allegedly directed at “integrating DEI expertise into key areas and addressing barriers to inclusion and representation gaps.”
The DODEA is a federally-operated school system responsible for educating approximately 70,000 children of service members. The DEI unit was formed in response to the Biden administration’s request that all federal agencies establish or elevate Chief Diversity Officers.
Kelisa Wing was hired as the education branch’s DEI chief in 2021, with her responsibilities including curriculum, professional development, and hiring. In September 2022, Wing faced criticism for posting comments disparaging white people on social media.
While she was placed under a six-month investigation, the DOD’s Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Gil Cisneros, concluded that Wing was speaking in a personal capacity and took no disciplinary action against her. In a letter to Congress, Cisneros later claimed that Wing was no longer involved in “DEI-specific responsibilities” but had participated in the restructuring process.
The decision to disband the DODEA DEI unit comes amid mounting pressure from Republicans who criticize what they perceive as a “woke agenda” in the military. GOP members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees have also expressed concern about the Pentagon’s increased focus on DEI efforts. At the same time, recruitment numbers decline and critical targets are not met.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran, said, “The military’s purpose is to fight and win—not crusade for social causes. As a combat veteran, this is personal to me. Our adversaries are watching.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also pointed to low morale and recruitment problems as evidence of the Biden administration’s misguided priorities.
Despite the restructuring, the Pentagon maintains that its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts remains unchanged. A spokesperson stated, “Department of Defense DEIA Strategic Plan, DoDEA reconfigured within the headquarters staff to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise into key areas to continue addressing barriers to inclusion, closing gaps in representation, and incorporate the institutional insights we have gained over the past two years.”
The debate over DEI initiatives in the military is ongoing, with some arguing that such efforts are essential for fostering a more inclusive and effective fighting force, notwithstanding the detraction from the military’s primary mission of ensuring national security.