Garrett Exner

June 21, 2023

U.S. Marine Corps recruit training, often called “boot camp,” turns civilians into Marines over 13 weeks. During that time, young men and women relinquish their individuality and identity, eventually taking on the recruiting role to earn the title of Marine. Recruits forget “I” and “my” and replace them with “this recruit.” Simultaneously, they learn the history of the Marine Corps, a lineage and heritage that becomes theirs once they receive the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This transformation builds unity in the Corps and commitment to its principles, which are critical to a military’s performance. These values are being undermined by leftist initiatives implemented throughout the military over the past several years. Rather than building unity and commitment within the ranks, these policies instill division, disunion, or discord, which are deleterious, akin to cancer in the military.


Unity of command, one of the seven warfare principles, is taught in every professional military education course in the Defense Department. The agreement is more than a vertical principle for the chain of command; it also runs horizontally among members and units. Any good military commander will argue that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines must be united to a set of core values and each other. Similarly, the Army teaches “selfless service” as one of its core values at the United States Military Academy. The phrase implies that the individual does not matter; service to the nation and its army is paramount.

Critical race theory, or CRT, on the other hand, and most of the recently rebranded diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, initiatives are dividing forces. These efforts promote and highlight differences in service members and seek to segment military members into categories of oppressed and oppressor. In so doing, they undermine the entire purpose of recruit training. Equity initiatives and CRT seminars are incompatible with a military seeking to strip individuality from its newest members and instill the concept of selfless service.

Famously, after a lifetime of service to his nation, including time as a U.S. senator and astronaut, John Glenn’s tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery lists U.S. Marine first. The conflicts in which he served (WWII and Korea) follow, then at the bottom are his other professions. Interestingly, in a Washington Post 2017 obituary, the order is reversed in reflecting the difference between how the civilian world sees itself and how a Marine sees himself. To Col. Glenn, being a Marine came first; all other qualifiers were footnotes. His tombstone illustrates the ideal of placing an identity before the title that matters most, Marine, cheapens and diminishes it.

This ideal is vital when considering the effects of leftist diversity initiatives on the military. Recently, the Biden administration published a Defense Department strategy for DEI called the “ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan ” that emphasizes gender and race in military promotions and opportunities for advancement. Simply put, this strategy reduces merit and pushes for quotas based on race, gender, and sexuality. More worryingly, it states that DEI initiatives be “integrated and embedded into the culture” across the force and that DEI should “inform national security decisions.” It further insinuates that “procurement structures,” which companies our military purchases weapons and equipment from, should account for race and gender as well.

This all focuses on the differences among service members instead of valuing the unifying aspects of service, merit, and core values. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded to the new DEI strategy by saying, “This equity approach to promotions and assignments takes a sledgehammer to the foundation of the military. And worse, it creates divisions that put our men and women in uniform at risk.”

As Thucydides wrote in 400 B.C., “He is best who is trained in the severest of schools.” This ethos is still visible at Marine Corps boot camp today, producing Marines through challenge, struggle, and humility. Yet the DEI strategic plan stands in opposition, promoting a military of individuals by highlighting their differences. It will fail if our military prioritizes individual personal identity in place of core values, such as selfless service and unity.

In a famous battlefield interview from Vietnam, a wounded Marine was transported to safety after a fellow Marine braved enemy fire to rescue the injured comrade. The reporter asks the latter, “What possessed you to run out into the paddy like that?” The Marine responded, “He’s a Marine, so I’ll take care of him.” Notable for the reporter, but not for the two Marines, was that the Marines were of different races — one black and one white. Now when it mattered, race was irrelevant. They needed to see each other simply as brothers in arms, forged in the same crucible of training. Their unity, to each other, to the country, and the Corps was critical to their survival. The Biden administration is, unfortunately, working to reduce that unity at the cost of military effectiveness.


Garrett Exner is an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute, the Public Interest Fellowship executive director, and on Veterans on Duty advisory council Duty. He previously served as a special operations officer in the Marine Corps with deployments to Iraq, North Africa, East Africa, and the South Pacific.

Distributed by the Stand Up America US Foundation