WASHINGTON — Amid attacks from conservative cable news personalities, the Army’s top leaders said they stand by their diversity and inclusion efforts during a Monday press briefing at the 2022 Association of the U.S. Army conference.
But they’re trying to thread the needle through a very narrow gap.
At Monday’s press event, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said “the key for senior leaders in an environment that is [politicized]...is to exercise good judgement...[and] not get drawn into, frankly, the inflammatory kind of environment that Twitter really lends itself to.”
Wormuth added that she emphasizes “keeping the Army apolitical and keeping it out of the culture wars, because we have got to be able to have a broad appeal.”
“We get criticized sometimes for being ‘woke.’ I’m not sure what ‘woke’ means,” explained the Army’s top civilian. Diversity and inclusion measures don’t mean “we are not focused on warfighting...[or] readiness,” she added.
But the culture wars are already here for the Army.
The service recently faced backlash for its handling of an inspector general investigation into social media posts Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe made in 2021 after conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson devoted a segment to criticizing women in uniform. Carlson and other conservatives have sharply criticized equity efforts, with some even singling out individual junior troops for participating in advertising campaigns that focused on diversity and inclusion.
Army Times first reported Donahoe could face discipline for his tweets, and Task and Purpose reported the allegations in detail on Oct. 5. The service has not yet decided what his punishment will be while it completes its review of the report and Donahoe’s response.
According to the investigation report, the Army IG faulted Donahoe for tagging Carlson in a tweet that celebrated a female tank crewmember’s reenlistment ceremony. Army Times obtained a copy of the document.
The IG also faulted Donahoe for tweets responding to online “trolls” who had very few followers and for a public post to a subordinate enrolled in training at Fort Benning. But the report said allegations of toxic leadership and reprisal against an officer who filed an IG complaint were “not substantiated.”
Donahoe’s defenders are most frustrated with the IG’s findings on the Carlson interaction, arguing he was standing up for women in the Army in the face of a concerted attack from partisan media. Some even expressed regret over their own silence.
“I regret now that I didn’t weigh in, at the time, on the side of our women who choose to serve,” tweeted Brig. Gen. Rob Wooldridge of the California National Guard on Saturday evening. “In the future, I hope to exhibit something approaching [Donahoe’s] moral courage when confronted with a similar situation.”
Wormuth declined to comment on Donahoe’s case when asked if her comments about “keeping the Army apolitical” were in reference to Donahoe’s tweets.
“I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation,” said Wormuth. “I do want our leaders to be able to have a social media presence, and to be able to speak up for soldiers and defend [them] if they’re being unduly attacked.”
But her statement came with a caveat.
“[S]enior leaders have to choose their words very carefully...we’re in an environment where things that people say — including things that the [chief of staff] and I say — can be taken totally out of context,” Wormuth said. “I think it just demonstrates that difficulty, frankly, of being in the public arena and not being accused of taking a partisan side.”
The service’s top officer, Gen. James McConville, said he believes the IG process is “a fair system.”
“There’s plenty of due process and appeals in that, but it does take time,” he said. “I believe that the system will handle that case in the appropriate manner.”
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.