The Navy is aiming to engage with older Americans who may have an effect on their recruitment efforts, and they are refuting claims that they are promoting ‘wokeness.’

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday addressed a gathering during the Surface Navy Association’s 35th Annual National Symposium in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2023. This week a focus was on the capability of sailors, perhaps as a response to a rising political narrative. Others claim that the military has weakened itself through policies supporting or advocating diversity and inclusion. 

Now that the House is controlled by Republicans, military leaders may be subject to more rigorous interrogations about these policies. Adm. Gilday declared to the attendees that sailors are not weak but was “doing some pretty amazing things.” He stated that the ‘narrative about weakness is not true.’ Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro added that he would not tolerate anyone insulting the US Navy personnel, irrespective of rank. Recruiting may be the reason for this shift. Gilday stated that critical influencers such as parents, teachers, and school administrators must have a favorable view of the Navy. 

He has encountered criticism for his 2021 reading list, which included a book by Ibram X. Kendi, and Rep. Jim Banks accused the book of lowering morale and endangering national security. Other critics have accused the military of weakening itself by lifting bans, such as the one on transgender service members, and making service easier. 

The Navy is attempting to appeal to the people who have influence over potential recruits. Capt. Dave Benham said that the research shows that the primary demographic of 17- to 24-year-olds values organizations that support diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, to draw in recruits, the Navy is offering high bonuses, raising the maximum age for enlistment, and relaxing the requirements for entrance exams.

Additionally, the Navy has a new incentive program for existing sailors to help with recruitment. Despite scandals that have occurred in the last year, such as a suicide crisis, water contamination issues, and difficulty issuing discharge paperwork, it is difficult to determine whether these stories affect people’s decisions to enlist. The Navy Secretary concluded that support for the troops has always been there, regardless of the political administration, and the Navy must continue to do that.

Should the Military Become Apolitical? 

The military has long been viewed as a political entity, but much debate exists about its role in today’s society. It is widely recognized that the military should remain an apolitical branch of government and be insulated from politics. The Department of Defense has made efforts to maintain the neutrality of the armed forces by enforcing regulations that prohibit members from engaging in any form of partisan politics or publicly endorsing candidates for public office. Additionally, service members must abide by a code of conduct that states they must avoid taking part in activities that might appear to involve partisan political matters.

Research suggests that maintaining a neutral stance can benefit military personnel and national security. According to a study by The American Enterprise Institute, when a branch of the armed forces becomes too politicized, it can lead to reduced morale among service members and strain military-civilian relations. Furthermore, politicization can cause internal divisions within the military and damage its ability to operate effectively. Politicization can also undermine public trust in the institutions responsible for national defense by leading citizens to question its motives. 

Salute Flag

“Any democracy ought to be concerned about a military that seems to be taking sides in an election. Fortunately, in the US there is virtually zero chance that the armed forces would physically interfere with the electoral process, but what’s put at risk here is the military’s standing as the institution in which the American public has the most confidence,” said Charles J. Dunlap Jr., the former deputy judge advocate general of the United States Air Force.

To ensure that the armed forces remain an apolitical branch of government, it is essential for leadership at all levels to remember their ethical obligations and prioritize professional behavior over personal loyalties. 

“In my view that sterling reputation is much-based on the public’s belief that the military, unlike so many other entities these days, is an altruistic organization impartially focused on serving the Nation’s interests. Because the military normally stays apolitical, something too rarely found in today’s hyper-polarized environment, I don’t think it’s perceived as yet another self-serving interest group. My sense is that people across the political spectrum very much admire that,” Dunlap Jr. added. 

In addition, Congress needs to take action and pass legislation that clearly articulates rules governing political activity within the Armed Forces. By establishing these guidelines and reinforcing them with strict enforcement mechanisms, it will be possible for all branches of government to work together toward promoting national security while preserving civil liberties.