The United States Army is not entirely a reflection of American society. It has discriminated over the years against a variety of American citizens that it has deemed unfit for service. The most obvious of these categories of unfit for service have included those who were not physically fit, were medically incapable (including a wide variety of incapacitating diseases, allergies, etc.), or those determined to be mental insufficient (both in terms of intelligence and mental illness.) In addition, the Army, guided by Congress and responding to various societal norms over time, have either prohibited or severely limited service by a wide variety of social and ethnic groups. African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, women and homosexuals have at various times been banned from service, allowed in only in small numbers, or allowed in only under special conditions. Yet in its centuries of existence, it can be said that gradually the Army has been more and more accommodating to a wider variety of divergent elements of society and it has become more reflective of the society it services. It has gone so far as to see diversity as a positive matter and greater diversity as a goal that should be encouraged. How the Army has wrestled with incorporating various diverse elements of American society in its ranks is thus a matter of continuing interest to the Army, its leadership, and the American people. Here are just a few of the products that the Center of Military History has produced over the years that highlight the challenges and obstacles faced by diverse elements of America that have, to greater or lesser success, been incorporated into the U.S. Army.
- The Employment of Negro Troops [in World War II], Ulysses Lee, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1966.
- Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965, Morris MacGregor, Jr. Washington D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981, 2001.
- Black Soldier/White Army: the 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea, William T. Bowers, William M. Hammond, and George L. MacGarrigle, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1996.
- The Women's Army Corps, 1945-1978, Bettie J. Morden. Washington D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1990.
- Mixed-Gender Basic Training: The U.S. Army Experience, 1973-2004, Anne Chapman. Training and Doctrine Command, 2008.
- Nisei Linguists: Japanese American in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II, James C. McNaughton, Washington, D.C., U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2006.
- Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867, William A. Dobak, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2011.
- Honor and Fidelity: The 65th Infantry in Korea, 1950-1953, Gilberto N. Villahermosa, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2009.
Army Organization for Diversity, 2003-2010
In 2003 the Chief of Staff, Army, General Eric K. Shinseki, directed the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to study the underrepresentation of women and racial minorities within the service’s senior officer ranks. The Commission on Officer Diversity and Advancement recommended that the service create an office in the Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA), to oversee all diversity issues for both soldiers and Department of the Army civilian employees. In 2005 the Army Diversity Office began operations as part of the Human Resources Policy Directorate of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1. One of its first tasks was to establish an Army Diversity Working Group to assist it and to serve as the service’s link to similar groups studying diversity elsewhere in the Department of Defense. Led by field grade officers, the Army Diversity Office and its supporting working group lacked status within HQDA and received only fitful support from senior leaders. The office could not develop a methodology for conducting the first step of its April 2007 action plan, which was to conduct an Army-wide workforce assessment. This problem stopped work on the remaining steps in the action plan and effectively derailed any further progress.
In November 2007 the Chief of Staff, Army, General George W. Casey, Jr., moved to reinvigorate the diversity program by creating the Army Diversity Task Force led by a brigadier general and reporting directly to the secretary of the Army and the chief of staff. The mission of the task force was to conduct a holistic review and assessment of diversity policies, practices, and programs in the Army. The task force also would evaluate the adequacy of the resources available to achieve the service’s diversity vision.
In July 2008 the task force produced an interim report. Among its recommendations was merging the task force into the Army Diversity Office to “revitalize” that office. Additionally, the restructured office was to move out of the G-1 and become an organization reporting directly to the secretary and the chief of staff. In November 2008 the secretary and the chief of staff approved these recommendations, and the brigadier general heading the task force became the director of the Army Diversity Office. While this change improved access to the service’s senior civilian and military leaders, it also made tasking and coordination by the office more difficult because the diversity staff was no longer co-located with the service’s personnel experts.
This arrangement also created overlapping jurisdictions between the Army Diversity Office and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), so in January 2010 the Army Diversity Office was moved into the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). The Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights was redesignated the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Diversity and Leadership. Although the Army Diversity Office reported to the assistant secretary under this arrangement, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission argued that the redesignation of the deputy assistant secretary did not make clear the fact that diversity and equal opportunity are two different issues. Furthermore, the commission believed that an effective diversity program required a similar high-level focus on the issue from military officers, and it criticized the absence of any formal and direct links between the Army Diversity Office and the Office of Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Later in 2010 the Army Diversity Office was combined with the Equal Employment Opportunity Civil Rights Office and the Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance and Complaints Office to form the Diversity and Leadership Office. This office, a field operating agency of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), is supervised by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Diversity and Leadership. The mission of the Diversity and Leadership Office is to act as the Army's facilitator for diversity in policies, programs, and practices so that the service can use all its human resources to their fullest potential. In December 2010 the office published United States Army Diversity Roadmap.
Diversity Terminology in the Army
Affirmative action and equal opportunity are terms that describe policies inspired by Civil Rights-era legislation and designed to assist groups within American society that had suffered from discrimination and prejudice in the workplace. Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-26, Department of the Army Affirmative Action Plan (1990) defines equal opportunity as “consideration and treatment based upon merit, fitness, and capability irrespective of race, religion, gender, or national origin.” Affirmative action is defined as “positive action” taken by the Army “to ensure that all soldiers and their families are afforded equal opportunity.” Affirmative action policies generally try to identify opportunities for members of disadvantaged groups in order to compensate for “disadvantages and inequities that may have resulted from past discrimination.”
The Army promotes affirmative action and equal opportunities for disadvantaged groups by setting goals that are “realistic objectives with measurable prospects of attainment”, rather than by simply establishing quotas to be filled with individual members of a group. The Army establishes goals in such areas as assessment and communication, recruiting and accessions, force composition, promotions, professional military education, involuntary separation, retention, assignments, discipline, and discrimination and sexual harassment. In addition, the Army promotes the merit-based value system behind equal opportunity for its contribution to combat readiness and unit cohesion. Leaders must ensure “fairness, justice, and equity for all soldiers” to develop competence and confidence and a positive leadership climate.
Diversity is a more recent term that, as the 2008 Army Posture Statement states, denotes the “collective mixture of human differences and similarities.” The U.S. Army has been a diverse organization in comparison to the society from which it comes, but that diversity has increased in years since World War II. Although the Army recently has promoted diversity as a strength, it has struggled to develop means of promoting it and capitalizing on its perceived benefits.
Women in the Army
1775-1900. During this period the Army did not permit women to serve in uniform. Initially they were camp followers who cooked, sewed, nursed, and laundered for soldiers. During the Revolutionary War a few, such as Mary Hays McCauly (better known as “Molly Pitcher”), followed their soldier-husbands onto the battlefield and participated in combat. A few other women during this war, such as Deborah Sampson, did enlist and see combat, but they did so disguised as men.
Between 1802 and 1882 Congress authorized the Army to hire laundresses. The women, who often were the wives of enlisted men, received official rations. Their pay, however, came from the soldiers for whom they worked, with the rates set by the post commander.
During the Civil War the Army hired thousands of women as nurses, cooks, matrons, laundresses, seamstresses, and waitresses. Many of these were African Americans who either had escaped from slavery or been liberated by the Army. Some of the nurses served in field hospitals and came under enemy fire. As in the Revolutionary War, a few women disguised themselves as men and served in combat.
Mary E. Walker, one of the first female physicians in the United States, served as a contract surgeon during the Civil War. Her service so impressed Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and George H. Thomas that they recommended her for the Medal of Honor, which was awarded to her in 1865.
1901-1942. During the Spanish-American War and the Filipino-American War, the Army again used civilian contract nurses. Although the contract nurses performed well, Congress created the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 as part of the effort to improve the professionalism of the service after the war with Spain. Nurses were appointed in the Regular Army and, after 1919, wore rank insignia, but they did not receive regular officer commissions until April 1947.
The War Department refused to enlist women during World War I, despite requests from the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) for women to fill support positions and the Navy’s decision to enlist women. Instead, the Army hired women as civilian contract workers. In response to a request from General John J. Pershing, the AEF’s commander, the Signal Corps hired female French-speaking telephone operators to work for the AEF. The Army assigned these women the same status as nurses and required them to purchase uniforms designed by the Army. When the war ended and the telephone operators were no longer needed, the Army terminated their contracts and refused to grant them official discharges on the grounds that that they had never officially been “in” the service.
World War II. More than 52,000 Army nurses were serving at the end of the war. Sixteen died as a result of enemy action. More than 1,600 nurses were decorated for meritorious service and bravery under fire.
At the urging of Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers and General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, Congress in May 1942 created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) to work with the Army, "for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation." Each woman, by virtue of filling a noncombat position, would make a soldier available for combat duty. The act authorized the Army to enroll 150,000 officers and enlisted women between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five for noncombatant service; to organize them in separate units; and to pay, house, feed, clothe, train, and provide medical care for them at Army posts and other facilities. It did not bar them from service overseas. At first, the WAACs—as the women were inevitably known—received less money than their male equivalents, but in November 1942 they began to draw the same pay and allowances as members of the Regular Army serving in corresponding grades. Women, however, were not allowed to hold standard military ranks, and thus the corps had to devise titles for the grades comparable to the Army’s grades of second lieutenant through colonel and private through master sergeant.
In July 1943 Congress converted the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps into the Women's Army Corps (WAC), which would be part of the Army itself rather than merely serving with it. The Army asked for this change in status because, although the WAAC had been an unqualified success and overseas theater commanders were requesting WAACs, the Army could not offer them the protection if captured or benefits if injured which male soldiers received. The distinctive WAAC grade titles vanished; the officers and enlisted women now used the same military titles as men. The director of the new WAC, however, could not be promoted above the grade of colonel and other WAC officers could not rise above lieutenant colonel. Enlisted women, on the other hand, could be promoted to the enlisted grade of master sergeant. In excess of 150,000 American women served in the WAC during the war. They served in the United States and in every overseas theater of operations. A total of 657 WACs received medals and citations by the end of the war.
1946-1978. In 1946, Army Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower decided that the Women's Army Corps should be a permanent part of the Regular Army and the Army Reserve. The idea was not to provide equal opportunity for women or to set a precedent for society, but to relieve as many men as possible from administrative jobs so that they would be available for combat. After a long and contentious process, Congress in June 1948 established the WAC (and women’s branches in the other services) as a permanent part of the regular and the reserve military establishments. To provide the National Guard with nurses, Congress in 1956 authorized female officers, but not enlisted women, for that reserve component.
During the Korean War the Army sought to increase the number of WAC units to free men for the wartime expansion of the active force. WAC recruitment was successful early in the war, but after July 1951 accessions declined. The growing unpopularity of the war, the start of truce talks, the competition with the other women's services for recruits, and public apathy combined to cut WAC enlistments in half. Recruitment of males also dropped sharply, and the active force was maintained through the draft of men and recall from the reserve components of men and women. During the war 67 WAC officers and 1,526 enlisted women in the Army Reserve were voluntarily recalled to active duty; 175 WAC reserve officers were involuntarily recalled.The shortage of male soldiers in some overseas commands created more opportunities for women to serve in supervisory capacities and in some of the military occupational specialties traditionally reserved for men. In the military hospitals in Japan, where many of those wounded in Korea were sent, WAC sergeants became ward masters, a supervisory role traditionally the province of male medical noncommissioned officers. Elsewhere, female senior noncommissioned officers took the place of their male counterparts in motor pools, mess halls, and post offices.
By the spring of 1951, over 300 Army nurses—but no WACs—were in Korea. Senior officers in the theater had vetoed the deployment of any WAC units, fearing that the fluid nature of the battlefield and the communists’ skill at infiltrating through combat units placed WAC units at too great a risk. When the frontline stabilized in late 1951, the theater requested a WAC unit, but the Army declined, fearing that it would be unable to sustain the unit there. Individual WAC noncommissioned officers, however, served in Korea on special assignments as stenographers and interpreters. In addition, although no WAC units were assigned to Korea, contact was established with the corps' counterpart in the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army. The Korean women's corps had formed in 1950 around a nucleus of policewomen who had been trained in 1946 by a former WAC captain for service in the Korean National Constabulary. A senior WAC officer was assigned as an adviser to the ROK Army women’s corps in 1956, a position maintained until 1974.
In January 1965 a WAC major and a WAC sergeant first class arrived in the Republic of Vietnam to become the first advisers to that country’s Women's Armed Forces Corps. That same year WAC stenographers arrived at the headquarters of U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), and WAC officers arrived to fill administrative positions at MACV headquarters; in the U.S. Army, Vietnam (USARV), the Army component headquarters; and in the Army support commands throughout the country. In April 1966, the USARV deputy commanding general requested that a WAC detachment be assigned to his headquarters to provide clerk-typists and other administrative workers, plus a cadre section to administer the unit. By January 1970 the unit had a strength of 139, with forty-five women in grades E-6 through E-8. Although most of the women would continue to be assigned to clerk-typist positions, the variety of duties had widened to include specialists in communications, personnel, finance, automatic data processing, and intelligence. By the time the unit was inactivated in 1972, approximately 700 WACs had served there. None were killed but one received the Purple Heart.
In March 1962, ten Army nurses arrived in Vietnam to staff the first field hospital deployed in that country. As American ground forces deployed there during 1965 the number of nurses also rose; by 31 December 1965 there were 215 Army Nurse Corps officers on duty in Vietnam. Peak strength for nurses in Vietnam was 900 in 1969. When the last nurses left Vietnam in March 1973, over 5,000 had served there. One nurse died from wounds received during a rocket attack on her hospital.
On 11 June 1970, Col. Anna Mae V. Hays, Chief, Army Nurse Corps, and Col. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director, Women’s Army Corps, were promoted to brigadier general. They were first women in the history of the American military to attain general officer grade.
In 1968, the Army Staff began planning for the transition to an all-volunteer force. Planners quickly concluded that an all-volunteer force would require expanding the role of women in the Army. The expansion began even before the draft ended in 1973. In 1971, women were permitted to enlist in the National Guard. When estimates for male recruits revealed a looming shortfall in volunteers, Secretary of the Army Robert F. Froehlke in August 1972 approved a major expansion in WAC strength and the opening of most military occupational specialties to women. The same year, the ban on women commanding units that included men was lifted.
After the draft had ended, the Army came to depend on recruiting high-quality women to compensate for its inability to recruit enough high-quality men to fill every position. In 1968, women comprised 0.7 percent of the enlisted personnel and 3 percent of the officers. At the end of fiscal year 1978, 7.5 percent of the enlisted personnel and 7.4 percent of the officers were women.
This dependence, and the influence of the feminist movement in the United States, soon brought more changes in the Army’s use of female soldiers. After a pilot program the year before, Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in 1973 was opened to women at all the colleges that desired it. By 1979, 25 percent of ROTC cadets were women. In 1974, the first WAC officer aviator was awarded her wings. The next year the first enlisted WAC graduated from the Warrant Officer Aviation Program. Also in 1975, advanced individual training for combat support and combat service support specialties was integrated. In 1976, women were admitted to the United States Military Academy. The following year the Army’s new combat exclusion policy permitted women to serve for the first time in airborne and long-range missile units.
In February 1977, Army Chief of Staff General Bernard W. Rogers approved initiation of consolidated basic training for men and women based on a new program of instruction. Integrated training began at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in October 1977, and other training centers converted to the program during 1978. Basic training companies now had all-female and all-male platoons.
On 20 October 1978, in recognition of the role women now played in the all-volunteer force, and reflecting changes in American society on the role of women, the Women’s Army Corps was disestablished. Instead of being detailed to the branches of the Army, female soldiers were now assigned to them. The next month, Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke, the last director of the corps, was assigned as the commander of the U.S. Army Military Police School/Training Center and Fort McClellan, Alabama, becoming the Army’s first female major general.
1979-1994. In May 1982, Army Chief of Staff General Edward C. Meyer, announced that the Army would end gender-integrated basic training later that year. Although the basic training program of instruction would remain the same for both sexes, male and female recruits would be segregated at the company level and below. The Army’s senior leaders never provided a reason for that decision.
Despite this change in basic training, women continued to play an important role in the all-volunteer force. In 1990, Kristin Baker became the first woman brigade commander of the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. That same year the Army began Operation DESERT SHIELD. More than 10 percent of the active force was female, and 90 percent of military occupational specialties were open to women. During Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, 8.6 percent of all soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf were women. The course of deployment and combat illustrated the difficulties of limiting risk and preventing casualties among female soldiers. In each of the four major casualty categories—killed-in-action, non-battle deaths, wounded-in-action, and non-battle injured—female soldiers accounted for five percent of Army totals.
The question of excluding women from combat in the military services came to a head immediately following the Persian Gulf War. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin argued that performance of women in that war had demonstrated that they could fill a number of the positions closed to them. In 1993, combat aviation was opened to women. The following year the Army reversed its 1982 decision and reinstated mixed-gender basic training companies. This ignited criticism from some members of Congress and conservative organizations.
1996-2002. In 1996, guard duty at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery was opened to female soldiers, a change that was overshadowed in November of that year by allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at the Army Ordnance Center and School, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. A number of female soldiers in advanced individual training courses there accused their drill sergeants of a variety of offenses ranging from rape to improper touching and condescending remarks. By March 1997, Army investigators had identified fifty victims. In the following weeks, eleven noncommissioned officers and one captain were charged with crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army regulations. Letters of reprimand were issued to the Aberdeen Proving Ground commander and three other senior officers. Meanwhile, similar allegations came from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. A hastily established hot line eventually received a total of 8,300 calls, 1,350 of which led to criminal investigations. These indications of a larger, endemic problem brought about a public outcry and media and congressional attention to issues concerning women in the Army.
Strong opposition to the Army’s expansion of the number of positions open to women continued from some members of Congress and conservative organizations. These opponents successfully pressured the Army in 2002 to remove female soldiers from the new Stryker brigade reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition squadron.
2002-2008. In 2003, women comprised 16.3 percent of commissioned officers, 7 percent of warrant officers, and 15.2 percent of enlisted soldiers in the active Army. During the initial phase of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the ambush of a maintenance company publicly raised the issue of female soldiers’ exposure to risk on the battlefield. In this action one female soldier was killed and one was taken prisoner. An Army investigation of the incident concluded that the training of service and support soldiers did not prepare them for the unconventional battlefield on which they had a much greater chance of engaging in direct fire combat than during conventional operations. In response to this finding, Army Chief of Staff General Peter J. Schoomaker directed a major revision of basic training to include more training in combat related skills for male and female recruits in service and support specialties. Additionally, he ordered the adoption of a warrior ethos for all soldiers, not just those in the combat arms.
While the growing number of female combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan excited comment among those opposed to Army’s policies concerning women, the general American public did not share that point of view. These opponents, however, did exert enough pressure to change the organization of the Army’s new modular brigade combat teams. To enhance logistics, each combat battalion in the original design was to have a forward support company. Women comprised a large percentage of the Army’s soldiers in the military occupational specialties used in those companies. When the first units began to convert to this organization in early 2004, opponents argued that it violated the Defense Department policy established in 1994 which prohibited the assignment of female soldiers to positions with a high probability of becoming engaged in direct combat. It would be impossible, however, to find enough men with the proper specialties to replace the women in all of the modular Army’s forward support companies. The modularity designers therefore moved the units to brigade support battalions which could retain mixed-gender companies because they were not combat arms units.
The cosmetic nature of the change, and realities of combat on an unconventional battlefield, became apparent in 2008 when Spec. Monica Lin Brown received the Silver Star for her actions the year before in Afghanistan. Specialist Brown, a medic assigned to a forward support company, was serving with a cavalry platoon because there were no male medics available. When the platoon was ambushed on a patrol, she repeatedly risked her life to treat and shield wounded male soldiers. Brown was removed from her combat outpost several days after the action even though she wanted to remain.
Specialist Brown was not the first woman in the current conflict to receive a Silver Star. Two years earlier, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, Kentucky Army National Guard, was awarded the Silver Star along with two male soldiers in her military police team for their actions during the ambush of a convoy in Iraq. Sergeant Hester was the first woman since World War II to be awarded the Silver Star and the first women to receive the award for bravery in direct-fire combat. Hester led her team through the kill zone and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds. She and her squad leader then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle.
On and off the battlefield, women have been indispensable to the all-volunteer force. In Fiscal Year 2007, women comprised 16.7 percent of commissioned officers, 8.4 percent of warrant officers, and 13.4 percent of enlisted soldiers in the active Army. As of 31 January 2009, 80 women have been killed in Iraq and 528 have been wounded-in-action. In Afghanistan as of the same date, 8 women have been killed and 16 have been wounded in action.
In the summer of 2008, 56 other women were serving as flag officers in the active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces, 21 of them in the Army, when Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody was promoted to the rank of general and appointed head of Army Materiel Command. General Dunwoody was the first woman to achieve four star rank in the long history of the American military.
African Americans in the Army
1775-1861. When recruiting lagged among whites, states turned to their black inhabitants, slave and free, to fill quotas for Continental Army regiments. (The state governments purchased slaves who wished to enlist from their owners and promised them emancipation at the end of the war.) Despite the fear of slave insurrection shared by many colonists, some 5,000 African Americans served with the Continental Army during the Revolution, mostly with racially integrated units from New England. The majority were infantrymen or unarmed pioneers detailed to repair roads and bridges.
Some African Americans served with American forces during the War of 1812, but again this was because an insufficient number of whites enlisted. After 1815, the federal government and the states gradually prohibited African Americans and Native Americans from serving in the Army, Marine Corps, or state militias. Racism, the lack of foreign enemies or Indian threats east of the Mississippi, and a growing concern about possible slave rebellions all combined to exclude blacks from military service in the four decades preceding the Civil War.
Civil War. During the first year of the Civil War the federal government and the states did not allow African Americans to serve. As the war continued, pressure for change nevertheless began to rise. Free blacks petitioned for the right to bear arms, and antislavery activists and politicians backed them on the grounds that the military needed the manpower. In July 1862, Congress authorized the Army to recruit blacks. After the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, several states organized black regiments and the Army established the Bureau of Colored Troops to supervise the units of federally-raised U.S. Colored Troops (USCT).
Although blacks received the right to fight, resistance to their presence in the Army remained substantial. The federal government considered African Americans auxiliaries and, despite sharing the same dangers and sometimes fighting in the same battles, generally paid them substantially less than their white counterparts. The few blacks that received commissions were never allowed to command even the lowest ranking white officer.
Leadership in the U.S. Colored Troops units had to be developed from scratch. Most of the white officers in the state and the USCT units came from the enlisted ranks and had to learn how to be officers while on the job. With no prewar black Regular cadre to draw on, these new white officers had to select and develop black noncommissioned officers for their units. Those officers who treated their soldiers as men and worked with them to develop their skills created noncommissioned officers equal to any in white units. Unfortunately, far too many white officers treated their soldiers in accordance with common prejudices and expected little from them. Instead of carefully selecting and developing a cadre of noncommissioned officers, these officers often demoted noncommissioned officers for minor lapses and then carelessly selected replacements. The resulting turmoil in the ranks prevented a solid core of noncommissioned officers from emerging in these units, reinforcing the white officers’ prejudices and degrading their readiness and combat effectiveness.
By the end of the war, at least 186,000 African Americans had served in the Army and thousands more had assisted the Union cause as laborers, teamsters, and cooks. Black units generally fought well in combat, but many senior officers had little faith in their combat abilities and avoided committing them to the battlefield. Although African Americans did participate in some major battles, black units thus tended to receive static assignments securing rear areas. A number of African American noncommissioned officers demonstrated how ill-founded this prejudice was when their actions were singled out by the award of the Medal of Honor. Among these men were First Sergeants Powhatan Beaty, Robert Pinn, and Edward Ratcliff. At the battle of Chapin’s Farm in 1864, they took command of their infantry companies after all the officers had become casualties and “gallantly led” them through the rest of the action.
1865-1917. After the Civil War, some Americans argued that blacks had earned a place in the nation’s armed forces, and in 1866 they overcame heavy opposition to push a bill through Congress giving blacks the right to serve in the U.S. Army. In the reorganization of the military that followed, the Regular Army included four regiments of infantry and two of cavalry, which were manned with black enlisted personnel and white officers. A further reorganization in 1869 consolidated the black infantry regiments into two, the 24th and 25th, and reconfirmed the two regiments of black cavalry, the 9th and 10th. Soon after the Army established its black regiments, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia organized black militia units. In addition, reconstruction governments in the South recruited large numbers of African Americans to help maintain order and ensure Republican control. Most of these units were disbanded after former Confederate leaders regained control of these states and instituted Jim Crow regimes. Although blacks faced both official and unofficial discrimination after the Civil War in northern and midwestern states, it was never as severe as that found in the South, and black militia and National Guard units remained active in the former areas until the end of the Korean War. One major difference between the state and federal units was that almost no African Americans received Regular Army commissions until after World War II. States, on the other hand, commissioned African Americans as company and field grade officers in their black National Guard units.
The men of the four Regular Army regiments acquired the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” during their service policing the frontier. Although the regiments compiled fine records during hard service at remote locations, most white troops continued to consider African American soldiers to be inferior. White civilians on the frontier at best tolerated black soldiers. An effort was made during these years to disband the black military units, but with blacks comprising close to ten percent of the Regular Army, the effort failed. Indeed, the lack of opportunity for blacks in civilian life drove some of the nation’s brightest African Americans into military ranks, where they tended to stay. Desertion rates were considerably lower for blacks than for whites. The results were units with highly skilled long-service noncommissioned officers. Nineteen Buffalo Soldiers received the Medal of Honor during the Indian wars. Among these were Sergeant Benjamin Brown and Corporal Isaiah Mays, who received their medals for their actions during a violent robbery of the Army paymaster they were escorting. The paymaster, a combat veteran of the Civil War, testified that in sixteen battles during that war he “never witnessed better fighting than shown by these colored soldiers.”
During the Spanish-American War, the black Regulars were joined by mobilized black National Guard units and special federal volunteer regiments organized for the war. All four Regular Army regiments distinguished themselves during the campaign in Cuba, due in no small measure to their large number of long serving noncommissioned officers. After the victory against Spain, black Regulars and federal volunteer units deployed to the Philippines to fight the insurgents there. Success on the battlefield, however, did nothing to loosen the grip of Jim Crow on the nation. White Americans rarely acknowledged the successes of these units, and they continued to treat black soldiers with disdain or open hostility. The National Guard in the southern states excluded blacks from membership, and the Regular Army resisted inclusion of black units in organizations such as the coast and field artillery. Blacks, according to racial theories of the day, could not function in these branches because they were inferior to whites in mechanical skills and intelligence.
World War I. During World War I, the Army's pressing need for additional manpower forced it to make greater use of African Americans than in previous wars. Through racially separate draft calls, the Army conscripted some 368,000 blacks, which was 13.08 percent of all those drafted. By the end of the war black draftees, prewar regulars and mobilized guardsmen combined to make up nearly eleven percent of the active Army's total strength, some 404,000 officers and men. Black assignments reflected the opinion, expressed repeatedly in Army staff studies, that blacks in segregated units when properly led by whites could perform reasonably well. Also reflecting the consensus of white officers were the assignments given to African Americans. Most served in logistics units because of the belief that blacks could not meet the challenges of modern combined arms combat.
The four Regular black regiments did not deploy to France because they had become objects of mistrust. Posted outside Houston, soldiers from a battalion of the 24th Infantry became increasingly resentful of the city’s Jim Crow laws, the brutality of the local police, and racial insults. In July 1917 more than a hundred troops finally responded by taking arms and marching into the city. During a two-hour rampage, they killed sixteen whites and wounded twelve more. A similar episode involving men of another battalion from the regiment took place at about the same time in Waco, Texas. In that case, however, prompt action by the unit’s commanders kept a major confrontation from developing. The men involved in the incident at Waco were convicted of assault with intent to murder but received relatively light sentences. Those charged at Houston received harsh punishments. Out of sixty-four men, forty-two went to prison for life and thirteen were condemned to death. The convening authority had the executions carried out before the men had a chance to appeal their sentences.
A major reason for the collapse of discipline in these units was the loss of their veteran noncommissioned officers. With the black community clamoring for recognition and the Army drafting increasing numbers of black men, the service had established a training school to prepare black junior officers for the new black units. Many of these officer candidates came from the corps of noncommissioned officers in the Army’s black regiments. The battalion involved in the Houston riot had sent twenty-five noncommissioned officers to this program. Lacking the stabilizing influence of veteran sergeants and commanded by white officers who were either inexperienced in command or insensitive to black complaints, soldiers in this battalion gave in to their frustration and anger.
The Army was unable to keep blacks completely out of combat, and it established the 92d and 93d Divisions. As with almost all white divisions, the two went into combat with incomplete training, and many of the individual replacements who joined them later possessed only rudimentary military skills. Both the 92d and 93d Divisions had black officers in junior grades but were otherwise generally commanded by white officers. Junior officers were frequently moved, in part so that no black would ever command a white. Compounding those problems, however, was the lack of enthusiasm that the Army displayed for black units in general. According to the commander of the 92d Division, the Army assigned to his division white officers so prejudiced against the troops that the unit lacked organizational cohesion.
As a result, despite many individual acts of bravery, the 92d Division’s men showed little initiative in their first actions and sometimes straggled to the rear. That beginning notwithstanding, the division, like most white divisions, began to profit from its early battlefield setbacks. Some twenty-one members of the division earned the Distinguished Service Cross. Even so, the unit’s achievements went largely unnoticed. Its failures were what officers and policymakers tended to see after the war.
The 93d Division consisted of only four infantry regiments, three of them from the National Guard. They were attached to the French Army and used as integral parts of French divisions. Although faced with many of the same impediments as the 92d, the 93d performed better, in large part because the French trained, supplied, and fielded them without racial prejudice. In addition, the three National Guard units possessed a cadre of officers and noncommissioned officers who had served together, giving the regiments a strong base upon which to build cohesion. Three of the 93d’s regiments won the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest unit award. Even so, most white officers suggested that the regiments succeeded mainly because the French had used them as part of white divisions.
1919-1940. After the war the familiar practice of maintaining only a few black units resumed in the Regular Army, while a few large cities in the north and the midwest maintained black National Guard infantry units. Also familiar was the high retention rates in the black regiments. What changed now for the segregated Regular Army regiments was the way most white officers perceived African American soldiers. Drawing on the supposed lessons of the Houston riot and the experience of the two black divisions in France, they believed that African American soldiers could not meet the demands of combined arms combat. Such prejudices also kept African Americans completely excluded from the Army’s new Air Corps. The elements of the four Regular regiments were dispersed across separate posts, and they seldom concentrated to train as regiments. Instead, their soldiers spent most of their time on post details.
The restrictions on black units combined with the high proportion of re-enlistments, made it difficult to develop a trained African American reserve force that could serve as the basis for an expanded wartime Army. Furthermore, the relegation of the active duty black units to housekeeping chores increasingly left the interwar Regular Army with a cadre of black noncommissioned officers who excelled at garrison duties but who lacked the experience to train and lead new recruits during wartime. The opportunity for young African Americans to become Regular Army officers was even more limited. Between 1920 and 1940 only one black cadet, after surviving four years of the silent treatment from his fellow cadets, graduated from the Military Academy. In 1940, the total number of black Regular Army officers was five, of whom three were chaplains.
World War II. The Army’s senior leaders initially limited African American strength on active duty to 10.6 percent of the total Army during World War II. In that way, the Army would be able to organize itself as efficiently as possible by budgeting only for those units and accommodations needed to maintain racial separation. During the war, however, the service failed to fill that quota, even as it encountered serious manpower problems. At the end of the war, African Americans constituted 8.5 percent of the Army’s ground force strength and 9.5 percent of its total enlisted ranks. The Army went to great lengths to maintain racial segregation, and it persisted in the policy of assigning white officers to black units. It also commissioned large numbers of African Americans as junior officers through a racially integrated officer candidate school system, but then refused to allow black officers to command whites. The system bred racial tension, especially in the South, where violent outbreaks between white and black troops, and between black troops and white civilians, occurred.
To African Americans, one of the most annoying features of segregation was the Army’s practice of employing them, no matter their education and background, almost exclusively in service units. They resented the practice because it confined them to manual labor and excluded them almost completely from combat. Intense pressure from African Americans on the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration led the War Department to form a small number of black air, armor, artillery and airborne infantry units between 1941 and 1943.
The Army also organized three black divisions during the war. The 2d Cavalry Division, to which the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were assigned, was disbanded after deploying to North Africa and its personnel sent to service units. The 93d Infantry Division, which included the 25th Infantry, deployed to the Pacific in 1944. However, senior leaders in this theater so distrusted the division that it was used only to garrison captured islands. The 92d Infantry Division deployed to Italy in 1944 where its performance became as controversial as it had been in World War I. Despite outstanding acts of skill and courage by individuals and small units, the division performed poorly. Commanded by an extremely prejudiced officer who was convinced that African Americans could not be effective combat soldiers, the division never developed the cohesion needed for an effective combat unit. In early 1945 the more outstanding infantrymen in the division were concentrated in one regiment while the other two regiments were withdrawn and replaced by a white regiment and the Japanese American 442d Regimental Combat Team.
Two World War II examples highlighted the importance of noncommissioned officers in establishing and maintaining unit cohesion. The first was the case of the 24th Infantry, which maintained a cadre of long service noncommissioned officers during its pre-deployment training and served in the Pacific on garrison duties. This included mopping up pockets of Japanese who refused to surrender. An inspection team found that the “morale of this regiment is high, its discipline is excellent and it has definitely demonstrated what can be accomplished with negro soldiers under the leadership of competent officers and noncommissioned officers.”
The second occurred in Europe after the Battle of the Bulge. The severe shortage of infantrymen led the theater commander to begin a program in which African American logistical soldiers could volunteer for infantry training, and then be formed into segregated platoons attached to white rifle companies. Over 4,000 black troops volunteered, many of the noncommissioned officers among them taking reductions in rank to do so. The experiment was a success. A majority of whites who fought alongside the blacks approved of the platoons’ performance in combat. A member of one of these platoons, Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr., would receive the Medal of Honor. Nonetheless, the Army did not publicize the experiment and disbanded the platoons as soon as the war ended.
1945-1954. Shortly after the end of World War II the Army convened a board to prepare a policy on the best possible use of black manpower. The board recommended, and the Army adopted, a policy that left the service’s practice of segregation largely undisturbed. While many new occupational specialties were opened to blacks, they continued to serve in segregated units, although some of these infantry, tank, and artillery battalions were assigned to white divisions. The service adopted a quota system limiting blacks to ten percent of the active Army, fearful that a greater percentage of African American soldiers would provoke intense criticism, particularly from the southern legislators who dominated the Congress. The Army permitted many more African Americans to take commissions, but it continued the practice of limiting black officers to service in black units.
President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order in July 1948 that stipulated equal treatment and opportunity for all within the armed services without regard to race. The order allowed the military time to make the change without damaging efficiency or morale. The Army took full advantage of this provision. Some officers opposed the order on the grounds that experience in two world wars had shown that blacks could not master modern combined arms combat. Others contended that most African Americans, because segregation in American society had left them poorly educated, would be a major impediment to the readiness of integrated units. President Truman grew increasingly irritated with the delays, and in April 1950 he finally officially ordered Army leaders to end the quota on blacks in the active force.
The Korean War was the catalyst for ending racial segregation in the Army. Although black artillery, armor, and service units served there with distinction during the war’s first year, the only remaining black infantry regiment did not. While some white regiments also had notable failures in combat, those of the 24th Infantry became widely publicized. As in previous wars, the major reason for the continual uneven performance of a black infantry unit was the lack of unit cohesion. Segregation and the racial prejudices behind it hindered the emergence of effective leadership within the regiment and destroyed the bonds of mutual trust and reliance between soldiers and officers. Contributing to the leadership problem was the very uneven quality of the regiment’s noncommissioned officers. Some were good, but the postwar quota policy had left the regiment with far too many skilled only in garrison duties. Many of the replacement noncommissioned officers that the 24th Infantry had received were either incompetent or lacked adequate infantry training or experience.
The inability of the Army early in the war to provide sufficient replacements for casualties in Korea led commanders there to begin an unofficial practice of assigning black soldiers to white units. This practice did not, as had been feared before the war, lower the effectiveness of units. The success of this wartime expedient, together with the failure of the 24th Infantry and continuing political pressure from the U.S. African American community led the Army to begin integrating its units in mid-1951. As part of its integration policy the service adopted a new quota system that limited the percentage of African Americans in any one unit. The policy was justified on the grounds that, because proportionally many more blacks than whites scored low on assessment tests, to exceed this limit would place too many lower quality men in a unit, compromising its readiness. The integration process, completed by late 1954, occurred without major incidents. Because the Army justified integration solely on the grounds of military efficiency, it received little public or congressional criticism for abandoning racial segregation.
After Integration. In the more than fifty years since the end of racial segregation in the Army, African Americans have continued to serve with honor and distinction. During the ten years after integration the major issues surrounding blacks in the active Army were the difficulties they encountered off-post, especially in the South; the Army’s inability to attract and retain black career enlisted personnel in large numbers; and the disproportionately small number of black officers. By the mid-1960s continuing segregation within southern state National Guards and the small numbers of African Americans in others had become a major issue.
The abolition of the quota system within units not long before the commitment of ground combat forces to Vietnam resulted in black enlisted men being assigned combat arms specialties in significantly greater numbers than their share of the American population. The inferior education many blacks had received caused them to score low on assessment tests, qualifying them only for the combat arms. During the first year ground combat units fought in Vietnam this pattern led to African Americans taking a greater number of the casualties than their share of the American population. As the draft brought more whites into an expanded wartime Army, this disparity receded, but low assessment test scores still channeled a disproportionate share of black enlisted men into the combat arms.
During the later part of the Vietnam War racial tensions in civilian society combined with growing opposition to the war to create a major disruption of good order and discipline in the Army. Many younger African American soldiers developed a new emphasis on race, which was reflected in self-imposed separation, displays of racial pride and solidarity, and quick reactions to what these soldiers felt were racial slights or discrimination, whether by individuals or the Army. The most evident displays of this new consciousness were the numerous race riots that occurred in the Army during this period at home and abroad. The younger soldiers often dismissed black career soldiers as Uncle Toms who refused to challenge inequities within the Army. This perception, along with the erosion of the noncommissioned corps during the war, greatly impeded the ability of sergeants to maintain discipline.
The Defense Department responded to this crisis by placing greater emphasis on programs designed to root out discrimination and promote equal opportunity. The Army required minority representation on all officer selection boards, sought to commission more African Americans, and increased the number of blacks attending senior service colleges. A program to achieve a more equitable distribution of black soldiers in highly technical military occupational specialties was adopted. The Army also adopted a new Racial Awareness Program designed to improve interracial communication through a formal race relations course. The cornerstone of the program was the mandatory race relations seminar. Also included were such activities as Black History Week, the observance of significant calendar events, and unit race relations conferences. These actions, together with the end of the Vietnam War, brought a gradual end to open hostilities within the service.
The end of the war also brought the end of the draft and a return to an all-volunteer force. Army planners working on this transition assumed correctly that an all-volunteer force would result in a significant increase in the number of black enlisted soldiers as whites would no longer be motivated by the draft to enlist. The first eight years of the all-volunteer force saw a dramatic rise in the number of black enlisted soldiers in the active Army, reaching 33.2 percent in 1981. The reason for this increase was that the Army offered many African Americans better opportunities than they could find in civilian life. Also increasing the attractiveness of the service was the Army's efforts to eliminate institutional racism. The service, however, continued to have difficulty in commissioning blacks; by 1981 they accounted for 7.8 percent of the officer corps.
When the Army deployed for the Persian Gulf War in 1990, African Americans constituted 29.06 percent of the active force. As part of its efforts to rebuild after Vietnam, the service had made a strong commitment to equal opportunity. Much of the Army’s success during the war was the result of this commitment, the recruitment of high-quality personnel, better training methods, and a renewed emphasis on the importance and prestige of the noncommissioned officer corps. Leading the military during this war was the Army’s second African American four-star officer and the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin L. Powell. Four years after the war ended, Sergeant Major Gene C. McKinney was sworn in as the first African American Sergeant Major of the Army. Unfortunately, his tenure was cut short by allegations of sexual misconduct and his conviction at court marital for attempting to obstruct the investigation into those allegations.
Although the percentage of African Americans in the Army has remained disproportionate to their numbers in American society, the percentage has dropped since the early 1980s. In 2002, blacks comprised 25.1 percent of the active Army; in 2001, they comprised 15.6 percent of the Army National Guard and 25.8 percent of the Army Reserve. Research suggested several reasons for these changes. First, the percentage of other minorities, especially Hispanics, had increased. Second, high pay and generous educational benefits, together with several economic downturns since 1980 had helped to maintain a larger flow of high-quality white recruits. Finally, high-quality black youths now had more opportunities in civilian society than ever before.
The distribution of African Americans in the service by 2003 had developed in several unexpected ways. While the company grade officer percentage had risen to roughly a proportionate level, the percentage of field grade and general officers remained much lower. More surprisingly, the proportion of black soldiers in combat specialties had declined significantly by 2003. This was in part due to the large numbers of black women who had entered the service, and who were barred from holding such specialties. Other factors that have been suggested for this trend include higher black unemployment rates that motivate black males to select specialties that have skills easily transferable to civilian jobs, and family traditions of service in such specialties. Another suggested cause of this disparity is that a sizeable number of white males join not for a career or to obtain a marketable skill, but rather for the adventure and challenge provided by enlistment in the combat arms before continuing on with their civilian education and careers.
Since 2003 widespread opposition among African Americans to the Iraq War has led to a further decline in blacks joining the Army. Black recruits dropped to thirteen percent of the Army’s total enlistments in 2006 from twenty-three percent in 2001, and the total number of African Americans in the active Army declined to twenty-one percent.
Asian Americans in the Army
Although the number of Asian Americans in the U.S. Army has always been relatively small, Asian Americans have served as American soldiers since at least the Civil War. Moreover, they have often performed well despite being subject to American prejudices against Asians. This was particularly true during World War II. The nature of the wars of the twentieth century, however, also made Asian-American soldiers uniquely valuable to the U.S. Army, as they could serve as translators and interpreters and provide reliable information regarding the enemy and his territory.
Asian American participation in the Army has reflected Asian immigration patterns. Asians began immigrating to the United States in sizeable numbers in the mid-nineteenth century. Chinese laborers first arrived in the 1840s, followed by Japanese workers starting in the 1880s. The early twentieth century saw the beginnings of Korean immigration, as well as that of single Filipino men, who arrived after the United States acquired the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.
1861-1941. As many as fifty Chinese immigrant soldiers and sailors fought in the American Civil War. The two Chinese soldiers who are most well-known, Joseph L. Pierce and Edward Day Cohota, had been taken in as children by the families of American ship captains. Pierce eventually joined the 14th Connecticut Infantry and fought at Antietam and Gettysburg. Cohota joined the 23d Massachusetts Infantry and saw action in Virginia at the battles of Drury's Bluff and Cold Harbor. After the war, he served for some thirty years on the western frontier as an enlisted man in the Army.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States incorporated Filipinos into its armed forces. For assistance in quelling an insurrection in the Philippine Islands from 1899 to 1902, Army leaders turned to native soldiers who knew the local terrain and languages and were accustomed to the climate. A 1901 American law officially authorized the enlistment of 6,000 native Filipinos into the U.S. Army. Called "Philippine Scouts," the Filipino soldiers were essential in helping U.S. forces to subdue remaining pockets of unrest during the years that followed. In 1913, Pvt. Jose B. Nisperos, a Scout, was awarded the Medal of Honor. Today he is recognized as the first Asian American to be so honored. By 1922, Philippine Scout units included infantry, cavalry, and field artillery regiments, each identified with the suffix "PS." Although American officers usually led these troops, in 1910 the United States began sending one exceptional Filipino soldier per year to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. By World War II, sixteen of thirty-eight native Scout officers were West Point graduates.
Many Asian American men chose to join the Army during the early twentieth century despite increasing discrimination against non-European immigrants. The U.S. government banned Chinese immigration after 1882, introduced restrictions on Japanese immigration starting in 1907, and ended all immigration by Asians other than Filipinos in 1924. Despite these developments, more than one thousand Japanese immigrants, most of whom were from Hawaii, served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Chinese and Korean Americans also fought in integrated Army units. Among them was California-born Chinese American Sing Kee of the 306th Infantry, 77th Division. Kee’s actions in France in August 1918 earned him a promotion to color sergeant and the Distinguished Service Cross. "Although seriously gassed during a terrific shelling by both high explosives and gas shells," read his citation, Kee "refused to be evacuated and continued practically single-handed to operate the regimental message center relay station. . . . by his determination and coolness materially aiding the regimental commander in communicating with the front line." For Asian soldiers who had not been born in the United States, the Army became a means to a new legal status. The United States eventually granted citizenship to any Asians who had served in the war.
World War II. A much larger group of Asian American soldiers served in the Army during World War II. Thousands of Filipinos participated in the first ground battle of the war for the United States. Members of the Philippine Scouts fought side by side with American troops and Philippine army soldiers after Japan attacked the Philippines on 8 December 1941. Helping to hold off the Japanese invaders for several months, the Scout units were highly decorated for their efforts. Soldiers in the 57th Infantry (PS), for example, received twenty-one Distinguished Service Crosses and sixty-eight Silver Stars. Sgt. Jose Calugas, Sr., of Battery B, 88th Field Artillery, earned the Medal of Honor. When Calugas saw a nearby Scout gun position bombed and shelled until the gun was put out of commission and the crew members all killed or wounded, he ran “1,000 yards across the shell-swept area” to the position. There, despite continuous Japanese artillery fire, he "organized a volunteer squad, which placed the gun back in commission and fired effectively against the enemy." Many of the Scouts did not survive the infamous Bataan Death March to a prisoner of war camp or died in captivity. In time, Japan made most Filipino prisoners sign statements agreeing not to return to combat and then sent them home. But some ignored their pledges and joined Filipino guerrilla forces. From 1942 to 1944, Filipino guerrillas harassed the Japanese occupation forces and provided the U.S. Army with valuable intelligence. When American troops returned to liberate the Philippines in late 1944, many Scouts rejoined the U.S. Army. When the Philippines received its independence in 1946, the United States allowed members of the Philippine Scouts to enlist in the U.S. Army and become American citizens.
In the United States, thousands of young Asian Americans enthusiastically registered for the draft or enlisted in the U.S. Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the invasion of the Philippines. Filipinos living in the United States, however, could not legally serve in the American armed forces. Congressional resolutions quickly remedied the problem, and by the end of 1942, the Army had organized the 1st Filipino Regiment and the 2d Filipino Regiment, which later became the 2d Filipino Battalion (Separate). Other Filipinos joined integrated American units. In 1944, one thousand Filipino-American soldiers received special training for secret missions. The Army sent many of them to the Philippines, where they established contact with anti-Japanese underground groups, collected intelligence, and sabotaged enemy installations and equipment. In 1945, the 1st Filipino Regiment helped to retake the Philippines, while the 2d Filipino Battalion worked in Manila in civil affairs.
Because Japan had invaded China during the 1930s, Chinese Americans had been watching developments in the Far East for years. Ultimately, more than 11,000 Chinese Americans served in the Army's ground forces during World War II. They represented roughly 20 percent of all of the Chinese adult males in the country. The Army assigned most of these soldiers to units comprised of men of all ethnic backgrounds, and one of them, Capt. Francis B. Wai of the 34th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading his men off the beach in the Philippines in October 1944. The Army also created one all-Chinese American unit, including officers, the 987th Signal Company, activated in 1943. The Army formed the company to provide both communications services and improved liaison between American and Chinese troops in China. The unit was not an unqualified success. Some soldiers liked the fact that their fellow soldiers were all Chinese, but others resented serving in a segregated unit. Moreover, the Army soon discovered that a portion of the soldiers had only limited English skills, which made technical training difficult. Some were therefore transferred to other units, and, because there were not enough men to bring the company up to its planned strength, the Army eventually had to reorganize it. In addition, most of the soldiers spoke Cantonese. Mandarin, however, was the primary dialect of the region of China—Yunnan Province—to which they would deploy, so the Army had to scramble to develop a course to teach them Mandarin. The 987th deployed to China late in the war.
World War II brought special suffering to Japanese Americans. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring some 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast to be interned in camps. Yet 17,000 internees ultimately volunteered to serve in the U.S. armed forces and, altogether, more than 25,000 Japanese Americans served in World War II. The U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Language School trained over 6,000 Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) to be interpreters and translators. In the end, MIS linguists served with every major military command, all three services, and a variety of Allied units. They translated enemy documents, interrogated Japanese prisoners, and provided other distinctive services. For instance, as a member of "Merrill's Marauders," a special forces unit in Burma officially known as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), M. Sgt. Roy H. Matsumoto earned the Legion of Merit for securing critical intelligence about a future attack by crawling close to Japanese lines and later yelling a command in Japanese that helped an American ambush to succeed. Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill, the unit's commander, noted that he could not have succeeded without the Nisei: "Probably few realized that these boys did everything that an infantryman normally does plus the extra work of translating, interrogating, etc. They also were in a most un-enviable position as to identity as almost everyone from the Japanese to the Chinese shot first and identified later." Discussing the contributions of the Nisei, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur's chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, concluded that "never before in history did an army know so much concerning its enemy, prior to its actual engagement, as did the American Army during most of the Pacific campaigns."
The Army also established two all-Japanese-American combat units. After Japan attacked, the War Department first planned to discharge all of the Japanese-American members of the Hawaiian National Guard and the University of Hawaii's Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. But the commanding general in Hawaii instead decided to make them the core of a separate unit, and in June 1942, the U.S. Army activated the 100th Infantry Battalion. Except for its commander and some of its company grade officers, virtually all of the unit’s members were Japanese Americans. Some in the Army were averse to using the Japanese-American soldiers, but Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, who commanded the Fifth Army in Italy, told Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall that he would “take anybody that will fight.” Deployed to Italy in 1943, the battalion proved its mettle. The War Department went on to recruit additional Nisei volunteers from Hawaii and from stateside internment camps for a newly activated 442d Regimental Combat Team. Joining the 100th in Italy in mid 1944, the 442d was just as successful, and eventually the Army merged the two units. The Nisei soldiers fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France, and Germany and earned renown for rescuing a "Lost Battalion" that had been cut off from the 36th Division in the French Vosges forest. For its size and the amount of time it spent in combat, the 100th/442d became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. With a peak strength of 4,500 men, its members were awarded more than 18,000 individual decorations, including a Medal of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, and 9,486 Purple Hearts. In 2000, nineteen of the Distinguished Service Crosses were upgraded to Medals of Honor. The 100th/442d also received seven Presidential Unit Citations.
Because Japan had annexed Korea in 1910, Korean Americans had viewed Japan as an enemy before most Americans did. Yet Americans often mistook Koreans for Japanese, and the U.S. government classified them as subjects of Japan and thus "enemy aliens." Many Korean Americans nevertheless channeled their frustrations into the war effort. Japan had forced Koreans to learn Japanese, and some Korean Americans were thus able to help translate Japanese military documents or teach Japanese to Army Training Program classes. One fifth of the Korean population of Los Angeles—109 men—joined the California National Guard and trained to defend the Pacific Coast against invasion. Other men joined Regular Army units. Young Oak Kim enlisted in 1941 and was selected for officer candidate school. In 1943, the Army assigned him to the Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion. Despite the historical tensions between Koreans and Japanese, he refused the transfer to another unit offered by his commanding officer and went on to become one of the most respected members of the battalion, earning 2 Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and a Distinguished Service Cross.
Asian American women also volunteered for military service. The Women's Army Corps recruited fifty Japanese-American and Chinese-American women to be trained as translators at the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Twenty-one women were later assigned to the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where they extracted information from captured Japanese documents. Other translators facilitated American-Chinese military cooperation. Cpl. Helen M. Lee, for example, translated GI training films into Chinese. A number of Asian-Pacific American women enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. Helen (Pon) Onyett earned a Legion of Merit for her efforts caring for wounded soldiers in North Africa. She eventually retired as a full colonel.
Although Asian Americans continued to encounter discrimination after the war, their contributions to the war effort helped to moderate the views of many Americans and also encouraged changes in the legal standing of Asian Americans. During and immediately after the war, the United States offered Asian-American servicemen citizenship and altered laws that prohibited Asian immigration and denied Asian immigrants the chance to become naturalized citizens.
1945 to 1975. The exact number of Asian American soldiers who served in the Korean War is not known because the Army no longer used the designation "Asian-American" after World War II. The total number, however, was in the thousands, and perhaps as many as 5,000 Nisei went to Korea. The United States had few translators who spoke Korean, so Nisei linguists, as they had in World War II, served again as interrogators, translators, and interpreters. Although the Army no longer maintained segregated units, the 5th Regimental Combat Team and 100th Battalion, 442d Infantry, U.S. Army Reserve, remained largely Asian-American. Asian Americans also again distinguished themselves on the battlefield. For example, one of the 100th Infantry Battalion's World War II heroes, Korean American Young Oak Kim, re-enlisted and again made a name for himself. He led a South Korean guerrilla unit, earned a second Silver Star and a Bronze Star, and eventually commanded the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 7th Infantry Division. Kim thus became the first Asian American to lead a regular U.S. combat battalion in a war. He retired as a colonel in 1972. Three Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor in Korea: Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaau, Sgt. Leroy A. Mendonca, and Cpl. Hiroshi H. Miyamura, whose award was kept secret until he was released by North Korea after 28 months as a prisoner of war.
By the time U.S. forces become deeply involved in Vietnam, Asian Americans faced less discrimination in American society. But during the war, at least some of the 35,000 Asian Americans who served endured blatant racism and demeaning treatment. One Filipino-American who was a sergeant in the Rangers later remembered that his drill sergeant had pointed to him and told his men: "This is how a gook looks. Take a real close look. If you see one of them, shoot and kill them." He was not alone in being used as an exhibit. Other men were threatened or even injured by their fellow soldiers. Still, Asian Americans continued to serve well. One Japanese-American Army nurse recalled enlisting in 1966 because she had a needed skill and wanted to do her duty for her country. Three Hawaiian noncommissioned officers were posthumously awarded Medals of Honor: Cpl. Terry Kawamura had smothered an explosive charge with his body to protect two other soldiers; S. Sgt. Elmelindo R. Smith had coordinated a counterattack when his reconnaissance patrol was attacked, despite being wounded; and Sfc. Rodney J. T. Yano had tossed burning ammunition out of an airborne helicopter to save the rest of the crew, though he had been partially blinded and was unable to use one arm due to an explosion.
1975 to present. Asian Americans again saw combat in Operation DESERT STORM, and units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 have included soldiers of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Vietnamese descent. In 2005, the 100th Battalion, 442d Regiment, deployed to Iraq for twelve months wearing the distinctive "Torch of Liberty" patch of its illustrious World War II predecessor. The Army Reserve's only infantry unit, the battalion now supports the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team and is comprised of soldiers from Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa.
During the past thirty years, the number of Asian Americans in the United States has grown markedly, but enlistments in the Army have not quite kept pace. From 1980 to 2000, the Asian-American population increased from 3.7 million to almost 12 million—or, from approximately 1.6 percent to 4.2 percent of the total U.S. population. Today’s Army does have more Asian-American soldiers. In 1983, there were 16,479 Asian Americans in the Army's active and reserve components, including 9,701 on active duty. By 2003, these figures had roughly doubled to 33,633 soldiers and 17,397 on active duty. At the same time, the percentage of Asian Americans in the active force rose from 1.3 percent in 1983 to 3.5 percent in 2003, by which time the percentage of Asian Americans in the total U.S. population had increased to almost 4.4 percent. The percentage of active-duty officers, however, rose from 0.9 percent to 4.2 percent, which made the proportion of Asian Americans in the Army officer corps approximately the same as Asian Americans in the U.S. population.
In recent years, moreover, several Asian Americans in the Army have risen to general officer rank. Brig. Gen. John L. Fugh became the Army's first Asian-American general officer in 1984, and, in 1991, he was the first minority officer to be named The Judge Advocate General of the Army. In 2001, Army Reserve Col. Carol Wong Pietsch became the first Asian-American woman to be promoted to brigadier general and the first woman general officer in Judge Advocate General Corps history. In 2004, Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano became the first Filipino American to earn a third star and assumed command of I Corps and Fort Lewis, Washington. The first Asian American to receive a fourth star was General Eric K. Shinseki. Born in Hawaii of Japanese-American parents, he served as Chief of Staff of the Army from 1999 to 2003. He was the first Asian American to be appointed to the Army's highest military position.
Hispanics in the Army
The term “Hispanic,” as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, refers to Spanish speaking people in the United States of any race. On the 2000 census form, those individuals could identify themselves as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino. More than 35 million people identified themselves as one of the four. For most of its history, the Army made little effort to track Hispanics as a demographic group. Soldiers might be identified as Mexican American or Puerto Rican on enlistment papers, but unlike women or African Americans, they were generally integrated into the service’s Regular, Reserve, or National Guard elements. The most notable exceptions were the National Guard units on the island of Puerto Rico that eventually became the 65th Infantry. In that case, however, the composition of the units was not the product of segregation. It reflected the population that had provided the troops.
Pre-Civil War. Spanish colonies in the New World were quite separate and distinct from those of France and England. In addition to the geographical separation, differences in language and religion limited the interaction of the populations. As a result, although a few Hispanics, primarily Portuguese, served with militia or U.S. Army units that fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, they were not present in great numbers. It was not until the United States acquired territories in Florida and the southwest after the Mexican-American War that the U.S. military had access to significant numbers of Hispanic recruits.
Civil War. At the outbreak of the conflict, some 1,000 Hispanics joined the regular Army. A short time later, the New Mexico Volunteers, a mostly Hispanic militia unit, joined the Union cause. The 2d Regiment, commanded by Col. Miguel E. Pino, a Mexican-American, fought in the battle of Valverde in February 1862, and at Glorieta Pass a month later, helping to defeat a Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Later in the war, the Union raised several companies of mostly Hispanic cavalry in Texas and California. Those units guarded supply trains, fought against bands of Confederate raiders, and participated in the Union’s limited campaigning in the southwest. Hispanic-American units formed during the Civil War were not retained after the cessation of hostilities. Hispanics continued to serve in the Army, but were assimilated into it in much the same manner as European immigrants had been decades earlier.
On the Confederate side, concentrations of Hispanics served in several units, including the 6th Missouri Infantry, the 55th Alabama Infantry, the 2d Texas Mounted Rifles, and the 1st Florida Cavalry. Col. Santos Benavides, the highest ranking Hispanic officer on the Confederate side, commanded the 33d Texas Cavalry. Southern militia formations also included sizable contingents of Hispanics, including one independent infantry battalion and four independent companies from New Mexico.
Spanish-American War. Several thousand Hispanics from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and the Indian Territories served in volunteer units during the Spanish-American War. The 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the famous “Roughriders” under Col. Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, included a number of Hispanic officers and troopers. Immediately following the end of the war, the Army organized a battalion of Puerto Rican volunteers for constabulary duties on the island. It later expanded this organization into a two battalion regiment and in 1908 accepted it into the regular force as “The Puerto Rican Regiment.” The unit was later designated as the 65th Infantry.
World War I. The United States mobilized some 200,000 Hispanics for World War I, the majority being Mexican-Americans. They were integrated throughout the armed forces. Approximately fourteen thousand Puerto Ricans, however, served in six all Hispanic infantry regiments organized on the island. They remained in the Americas, guarding key installations in Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone.
In Europe, several Hispanic soldiers distinguished themselves in combat against the Germans. Pvt. Nicholas Lucero of the 32d Division received the French Croix de Guerre for destroying two enemy machine gun emplacements and then maintaining a constant fire on another German position for more than three hours. Another Hispanic-American, Pvt. David B. Barkley of the 87th Division, received the Medal of Honor posthumously for actions near Pouilly, France, on 9 November 1918. Barkley and another volunteer swam across the Meuse River to gather information on enemy positions. After completing their mission the two reentered the river, but Barkley succumbed to cramps and drowned before reaching the friendly shore.
World War II. About 500,000 Hispanics served in the U.S. military during World War II. Once again, the majority were Mexican-Americans. Although they were integrated throughout the armed forces, many National Guard and Reserve units mobilized from southern and southwestern states contained high percentages of Latinos. The Arizona National Guard’s 158th Infantry won fame as the “Bushmasters” of the southwest Pacific. The regiment spent 312 days in combat in New Guinea and the Philippines and was hailed by General Douglas MacArthur as “one of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle.” Another unit from the American southwest, the 141st Infantry of the Texas National Guard, also distinguished itself in the European Theater. Fighting in Italy and France for almost a full year with the 36th Division, the regiment suffered almost 7,000 battle casualties many as part of the ill-fated Rapido River crossing in Italy. Soldiers of the 141st received 3 Medals of Honor, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses, almost 500 Silver Stars, and some 1,700 Bronze Stars.
Out of 440 Medals of Honor awarded to American servicemen during World War II, twelve were received by Hispanics. In fighting near Metzwillers, France on 15 March 1945, Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division, advanced alone against an enemy strongpoint, capturing eight German soldiers. He continued his advance toward a second strongpoint until he was severely wounded in an enemy minefield. Despite his wounds, he continued to fire upon the enemy position until it was overrun by another squad. Pfc. David M. Gonzalez of the 127th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division, received his Medal of Honor for actions along the Villa Verde Trail on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. On 25 April 1945, with his company pinned down by enemy fire, Gonzalez rushed forward to assist five fellow soldiers who had been buried in the explosion of a 500-lb bomb. Using bare hands and an entrenching tool, he was able to rescue three of the men before he was hit by enemy sniper fire and fell mortally wounded.
Korean War. Altogether, 148,000 Hispanics served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. The largest single contingent deployed with Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry, which, with a total strength of over 4,000 troops, was the largest U.S. infantry regiment in the war. Although senior commanders and some staff officers were “continentals” from the Regular Army, the regiment was overwhelmingly Hispanic. Nicknamed the “Borinqueneers” after one of the original Indian tribes of Puerto Rico, the regiment deployed to Korea in September 1950, taking part in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter and the drive northward. The regiment, along with the rest of the 3d Infantry Division, helped to hold open mountain passes as the 1st Marine Division withdrew from Chosin, and then formed part of the defensive perimeter around Hungnam harbor as United Nations forces evacuated the city. During its service in Korea, the regiment received four Distinguished Service Crosses and 125 Silver Stars. It also received the American Presidential Unit Citation, the Army Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Korean Presidential Unit Citations, and the Greek Gold Medal for Bravery. The all-Puerto Rican regiment was finally integrated in March 1953 and remained in Korea until November the following year. By the end of the Korean War, Puerto Ricans served throughout the Army.
Other Hispanics served in integrated units throughout Korea, many with distinction. Pfc. Joseph C. Rodriguez served as a rifleman and assistant squad leader with the 17th Infantry, 7th Infantry Division. On 21 May 1951, near Munye-ri, South Korea, he was participating with his squad in an attack against a strongly fortified enemy position. With his men exposed to deadly small arms fire from a number of positions, Rodriguez charged sixty yards uphill firing his weapon and tossing grenades. He singlehandedly destroyed five enemy emplacements and forced the remaining defenders to flee. For his actions, Rodriquez received the Medal of Honor. Another Medal of Honor recipient during the Korean War was Cpl. Benito Martinez of the 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. On 29 December 1953, while manning a listening post forward of the main defensive line, Martinez was attacked by a company-size enemy force. Ordering three other soldiers manning the position to the rear, the corporal elected to remain at his post and inflicted numerous casualties using a machine gun and automatic rifle. After resisting enemy attacks for six hours, Martinez reported that the enemy was closing in on his position. Although he was overrun and mortally wounded, his determined resistance allowed his unit to hold its position and repel the enemy assault.
Vietnam. By the 1960s and the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army was fully integrated and Hispanics served throughout the force. There were no all-Hispanic units and the military did not record separate data on Hispanic participation. Approximately 80,000 served in the American armed forces during the Vietnam War. As in previous wars, Hispanic troops performed admirably. One was Sfc. Issac Camacho, a member of a U.S. Special Forces team supporting a Civilian Irregular Defense Group camp at Hiep Hoa. When the camp was attacked and overrun by a reinforced Viet Cong battalion in November 1963, Sergeant Camacho returned fire from his mortar position until he was captured by enemy troops. Held captive for almost twenty months, Camacho managed to escape in July 1965, and made his way back to friendly positions. For his role in the defense at Hiep Hoa and for his successful escape, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. Promoted to master sergeant, he later received a battlefield commission to captain.
One of the most illustrious soldiers during the Vietnam War was Army Special Forces M. Sgt. Roy P. Benavides. When a long range reconnaissance team was cut off and pinned down by enemy fire, then Staff Sergeant Benavides volunteered to join the unit and to assist with its extraction. Dropped off by helicopter in a nearby clearing, Benavides ran approximately 75 meters through heavy fire to reach the beleaguered team. Finding most of its members dead or wounded and by then painfully wounded in the leg, face, and head, he organized a defense with the remaining soldiers and coordinated extraction efforts. Despite repeated enemy attacks and the crash of a rescue aircraft, Benavides rallied his troops and kept them fighting despite overwhelming odds. Finally, one helicopter was able to reach the position and the sergeant loaded the surviving soldiers, checked the position for any remaining materials of value to the enemy, and only then climbed onto the aircraft as it pulled away. As his Medal of Honor citation noted, his fearless personal leadership and tenacious devotion to duty saved the lives of eight men.
In March 1976, in response to rising concerns over disproportionate numbers of African Americans in combat arms units, the Department of the Army formed a Standing Committee on Equal Opportunity to review service policies regarding the treatment of and opportunities for minorities. The review concerned itself primarily with the role of women and African Americans in the service. In 1978, however, the resulting affirmative action plan for the Army required the collection of more detailed data on ethnic minorities and recommended that the service employ U.S. Department of Commerce standard classifications of white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans.
Post-Cold War. In 1990, the U.S. Census identified 22.4 million Americans of Hispanic origin, about 9 percent of the population. In 1990 and 1991, 20,000 Hispanics took part in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. At that time, they comprised 4.2 percent of the Army. By December 2008, 45.4 million Hispanics constituted about 15.1 percent of the U.S. population. Of those, 53,571 served in the enlisted ranks of the Army, making up almost 12 percent of the enlisted force. Another 5,429 served as officers, about 6 percent of the total officer strength. Altogether, some 59,000 Hispanics made up about 10.8 percent of the Active Army’s personnel strength of 542,565. Based upon the most recent census and projected population estimates, those numbers and percentages should increase in the coming years.
Over time, Hispanics have risen to the top ranks of the U.S. Army. In 1982, General Richard E. Cavazos, a Mexican American, became the service’s first Hispanic four-star general. Cavazos served in the 65th Infantry in Korea, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross. He commanded the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, in Vietnam where he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross. His early support for the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California, and his involvement in the Battle Command Training Program helped to shape Army warfighter training into the twenty-first century. On 2 July 1998, Louis E. Caldera, a Mexican American and West Point graduate, became the highest-ranking Hispanic to hold office when he became Secretary of the Army. During his tenure the Army began a transition from its Cold War orientation to a rapidly deployable expeditionary force. Secretary Caldera’s encouragement of programs to upgrade enlisted soldiers’ skills and education opportunities helped to prepare the Army for the Information Age.
Religious Accommodations for Sikhs
The first known Sikh to serve in the U.S. Army was Bhagat Singh Thind, an immigrant from India, who enlisted in July 1918. Thind did not serve overseas during World War I. Instead, he was assigned to the 166th Depot Brigade, Camp Lewis, Washington. Army regulations at this time permitted soldiers to wear beards, and Thind’s commanders at Camp Lewis permitted him to wear his turban. Like many soldiers stationed in the United States, Thind received an honorable discharge within six weeks of the war’s end in 1918.
An Army spokesman quoted in press reports during 1974 stated that the service had adopted a policy in 1958 that provided religious accommodations for Sikh draftees but did not provide accommodations for Sikh Regular Army enlistees. An unknown number of Sikhs did receive religious accommodation waivers before 1974 that allowed them to serve in the Regular Army while wearing their beard, long hair, and turban. Available sources do not provide information on why these waivers were issued. One of these men, Paramjit Sibia, received his draft notice in 1968 but preferred to pick his military occupational specialty. He applied for and was granted a waiver to enlist in the Regular Army as a Vulcan air defense system mechanic while keeping his beard and long hair and wearing a drab olive-green turban. Sibia served in Korea and Germany and was profiled in a 1976 article in SOLDIERS magazine. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Sibia served on active duty until his retirement as a sergeant major.
In late 1973 three enlisted men who had all converted to Sikhism after entering active duty were charged with disobeying orders to remove their turbans, long hair, and beards. Special courts-martial convicted two men and sentenced them to three months hard labor and a general discharge. The third, Pvt. Walter S. McNair, challenged the charge on First Amendment grounds and was found not guilty at a special court-martial in January 1974. Initial press reports following the McNair verdict quoted anonymous officers on the Army Staff saying that the service would revise its regulations to provide honorable discharges to all soldiers who “seriously profess their Sikh faith, or other religions whose tenets would conflict with Army appearance standards.
The service, however, did not follow that course of action and instead, in June 1974, issued Change 4 to Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy and Procedures, 28 April 1971. This change provided procedures for granting a religious accommodation waiver to Army uniform and appearance standards for Sikhs wishing to enter the Army and for soldiers who had converted to Sikhism. In both cases, the Sikh had to provide evidence “from the policy making body of his religious group” that he was “a member in good standing of that religious group.” He then had to appear before a board of officers established by a general court-martial convening authority; the board would examine the evidence and determine if the man was a “sincere, bona fide member of the Sikh religion.” The board would recommend whether or not to grant the waiver and then the general court-martial convening authority would make the final determination on the request. Available sources do not reveal why the U.S. Army Chief of Staff issued this change to AR 600-20.
After the service permitted religious accommodation waivers to uniform and appearance standards for Sikhs, other religious groups including Hasidic Jews, Muslims, Christian fundamentalists, and Rastafarians, requested that they be allowed to request such waivers as well. In response, the Army began to review the issue in January 1981 and in August 1981 ended the policy of providing religious accommodation waivers to Sikhs. The service explained the change as necessary for operational and safety requirements, the most important of which was that men with beards could not maintain an effective seal on their gas masks. The estimated fifteen Sikhs in the Regular Army were allowed to remain on active duty while wearing beards, unshorn hair, and turbans as long as they otherwise remained qualified for retention. These soldiers, however, could no longer serve outside the continental United States “due to health and safety concerns.”
Later in the decade the Army would publish regulations that permitted soldiers to wear religious apparel that was “neat, conservative, and discreet,” and that would not interfere with the performance of their duties or present a safety concern. Religious exceptions to hair and grooming standards remained forbidden except for those soldiers who received such waivers before 1 January 1986. Guru Sant Singh Khalsa challenged this policy in court after being rejected for enlistment in 1982, but his claim was denied by a United States Court of Appeals in 1986.
In 2001 Army recruiters promised two Sikhs that if they entered the Health Professions Scholarship Program they could keep their beards, unshorn hair, and turbans both during the program and while serving their active duty commitment. Upon graduating from the program, however, the men were ordered to cut their hair, shave their beard, and remove their turban. Both men appealed this order under the provisions of paragraph 5-6, AR 600-20. The Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, granted them religious accommodation waivers as long as their beards, hair, and turbans were “neat and well maintained at all times.' The G-1 stated that these accommodations were based solely on the facts and circumstances of the men’s cases. Furthermore, the G-1 warned that these accommodations did not constitute a blanket accommodation for any other individual and that future requests for religious accommodation waivers would be evaluated on the individual circumstances of each case.