LTG Steven Gilland’s West Point hosted the 20th annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Conference at West Point, NY, 30-31 August 2023. The audience of nearly 400 was composed of cadets from West Point, United States Air Force Academy, and US Coast Guard Academy, officers from the US Army, US Air Force, USMC, US Space Force, and Canadian military, former NASA officials, staff and faculty at universities, and the lay public. The conference included panels and lectures that discussed different facets of DEI. The main purpose of the conference, according to the organizer, Ms Lisa Benitez, was to discuss
“… best practices on developing inclusive leaders and how to leverage their talents to enhance collaboration, communication, engagement and innovation with their organizations.”[i]
One panel was called “USMA International Cadet Program.” It asserted that working with foreign cadets and militaries inherently made the US military stronger. Major Conor Downs, a USMC officer and West Point faculty officer on the panel told the conference attendees a story about a recent Sandhurst Competition. Sandhurst is an annual competition held at West Point each year with teams from West Point, ROTC, and around the world. Over the course of 2 days, the teams perform various physical and military trials as an 11-person team (at least 2 females and at least 2 males on each team). Some events are timed. During the DEI Panel discussion, Major Downs said,
“I've got a great anecdote of two years ago…[during the Sandhurst timed ruck march] one of the American teams actually lost track of one of their competitors and actually left him behind. He was injured on the side of the trail all by himself. And it was actually one of our international teams, the Italian team that found the cadet.”
“And in that short experience, that Italian squad leader gave USMA a whole lot better leadership lesson than anything we could find in a classroom. He sacrificed his position in the competition to take care of an international partner because he realized that that was really why he was here, was to build relationships, cross-cultural competency, which leads to better national security.”
During the timed event (ruck march), the Italian cadet squad leader made his team stop to render aid to the American whose team had moved on to complete the event in the quickest time possible. This effectively ruined the Italian team’s chances of being competitive in the 2-day Sandhurst international challenge. Further, this Italian cadet seems to have grasped the concept that a friendly casualty may necessitate a change of mission, but he also knew to never leave an injured comrade behind.
Downs did not elaborate on why the USMA team left their injured teammate behind. For 2 days, the DEI Conference leaders seemed to reach for anything involving 2 people that didn’t look alike or speak alike to declare a triumph for DEI, even though most examples showed admirable behavior that successful militaries have been doing for centuries. In this case, the incidental fact the rescuer spoke a different language seems to have checked the box for diversity.
On the Army’s values page, the Ranger Creed is listed as a guidepost for honorable soldierly behavior. The “E” in Ranger is listed as:
“Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.”[ii]
It is unclear why the American cadet was left by his team. Leaving friendly forces behind seems to be an emerging trend after Bengazi and Afghanistan. MAJ Downs is a Marine officer and an instructor in West Point’s Department of Military Science where military tactics and ethics are taught to cadets. It appears an Italian military cadet taught a basic, time honored (hundreds of years older than DEI) military ethos lesson on selflessness to West Point, one that should have been taught by West Point’s own staff. To be fair, mistakes happen and military units can lose track of their members. Leaving an injured cadet behind is probably an event West Point did not wish to discuss in public and it unknown what was done afterwards regarding the matter in private. But in this particular case, it is not clear why MAJ Downs thought a NATO team rescuing an American cadet that was left behind by his teammates was in any way a feel good story and “leads to better national security.” This anecdote seems to contradict LTG Gilland’s oft stated “team” concept.
With cadet after cadet (American) approaching the microphone during the DEI conference with themes of what America and the academies can do for “me/them” and no less than 15 cadet diversity clubs that divide cadets along tribal lines, it seems the academy’s focus is not on winning and sacrificing as a member of a team but on individualism.
“Unselfishness, as far as you are concerned means simply this – you will put first the honour and interests of your country and your regiment; next you will put the safety, well-being and comfort of your men; and last – and last all the time – you will put your own interest, your own safety, your own comfort.”
Field Marshal Sir Bill Slim, Courage and other Broadcasts,1957
Has DEI’s concept of “inclusiveness” and tribalism superseded time-honored traditions of “selflessness” at West Point?
John Hughes, MD, is a writer on medical and military matters. He is a 1996 West Point graduate, veteran of Haiti/Iraq/Afghanistan, and is a practicing Emergency Physician. He is a contributor to CDMedia and Armed Forces Press, has been featured in Real Clear Defense, Washington Examiner, and American Thinker, and has been a medical expert for Epoch Times. He is a leader in the MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates and a member of STARRS.US.
This letter is the opinion of the author and does not represent the stance of any organizations or corporations.