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Diversity of Talent in the Armed Forces.

By Gabriel Camarillo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

In this month’s issue, we take a moment to recognize the contributions of the greatest military in the world. Such contributions include combat and support missions in conflict zones, providing humanitarian and disaster relief assistance when tragedy strikes, and protecting the homeland. In all cases, it is the men and women of the armed forces that make it all possible. As citizens, we recognize that our security is derived from the talent and experience that our volunteer military service members provide. In the 21st century, this will be increasingly due to the rich diversity of talent within our armed forces.

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Countless studies confirm what many of us already intuitively know: having diverse teams of people – made up of unique perspectives, experiences, and heritage – produce the best, most innovative results. As we face an increasingly complex security environment around the world, we need creative thinking and fresh approaches to problems that diverse teams provide. As we work with other nations and interact with different cultures, our experience also shows that diversity in our military establishes credibility with our partners and helps us achieve mission objectives.

As we prepare for the future, the challenge will be to harness the rich diversity our nation offers as we recruit and develop future military leaders. While we have the best volunteer force in the world, competition for this talent will be increasingly fierce in the years and decades to come. Consider that since 1995, the number of youth who had a parent affiliated with the military decreased from 40 percent to only 16 percent today. Fewer high school graduates are familiar with the wide range of career and training opportunities that exist in military service. Furthermore, of the 20 million members of our population between the ages of 17 and 24, less than 2 percent are considered eligible and likely to join military service. This represents a historic low.

To maintain our competitive advantage, we need to develop new talent pipelines that attract and retain the diverse talent that our nation has to offer. To succeed, we must employ new approaches to identify and recruit military leaders that tap into new communities and add new experience. Our military force cannot rely on existing approaches alone to attract the talent we need in the future.

The Air Force has taken positive steps in this direction recently, focusing on diversity and inclusion in our recruiting and talent management processes and policies. We have borrowed and modified ideas from the private sector, such as a requirement for diverse candidate pools for key military positions, promoting diversity within the ranks of Air Force recruiters and better leveraging technology to reach diverse communities and populations. We also modified policies to help us retain talent, including women and minorities, in critical career fields. These steps are important, but we must do more.

Educating young citizens on the opportunities and benefits of military service, especially when research shows that fewer young people are familiar with it, will be critical. Highlighting the role that Latinos and Latinas currently perform in national security will help. I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken in the Air Force to promote diversity and compete for talent. These efforts represent initial and important steps in assembling a military workforce that reflects the country it serves.

Gabriel Camarillo is the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as the official responsible for overall supervision of manpower and Reserve component affairs of the Department of the Air Force in December 2015. Camarillo leads a four-division department that develops policy and provides oversight of manpower, military and civilian personnel issues, Reserve component affairs, and readiness support for the Department of the Air Force.