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Army Secretary ‘not sure what woke’ means, stands by diversity efforts; warns leaders to avoid online ‘culture wars’

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth at the Center for New American Studies 2018 Annual Strategic Competition Conference in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2018. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)
October 11, 2022

In a Monday press conference, U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she doesn’t understand criticism the service has received about being “woke” but stands by its diversity efforts. At the same time, Wormuth advised the service’s leaders to keep “out of the culture wars” online.

During a press conference at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) on Monday, Wormuth faced questions about how Army leaders have diversity efforts and how they’ve handled politically charged conversations on Twitter.

Wormuth said social media is an important tool that can help the Army “but the key for senior leaders in an environment that is as politicized, unfortunately, as the one that we’re all operating is is to exercise good judgment.”

Wormuth provided that comment in response to a question from Army Times reporter Davis Winkie, who noted Army Gen. Patrick Donahoe is currently being investigated for his social media behavior. Task & Purpose first reported, based on the leaked contents of an inspector general investigation, that Donahoe was being investigated after sparring online with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Carlson caught attention from several military leaders in March of 2021 after he noted the U.S. military was developing special maternity flight suits for pregnant service members and questioned whether military leaders are losing focus on warfighting capabilities and instead honing in on social issues. Several military leaders took Carlson’s segment as an attack on women in the military and Donahoe responded on Twitter by tagging Carlson in a tweet showing him conducting a reenlistment ceremony for female tank crew member.

As Task & Purpose reported, Donahoe was also investigated for getting into a Twitter fight over the military’s vaccine policy. After a Twitter user noted more U.S. troops had died from suicide in the fourth quarter of 2020 than had died with COVID-19 during the entirety of the pandemic to that point. Donahoe responded at one point by tweeting at the Twitter user’s college, saying, “Hey @Hillsdale come get your boy.”

Investigators reportedly focused on other incidents in which Donahoe carried on in casual social media conversations with subordinates. Such casual interactions could violate Army and command regulations designed to prevent “undue familiarity” and favoritism between leaders and their subordinates.

During the Monday press conference, Winkie noted Army leaders have been criticized in the past for not speaking up enough online about problems in the Army. Winkie said Donahoe was now being investigated for speaking up too much and asked Wormuth.

“Where is the middle ground where you want your senior leaders to exist and engage on social media?” Winkie asked Wormuth. “You have folks who are getting hammered for not doing it and folks are getting hammered for seizing it and doing it to you know the greatest extent that they think appropriate. What do you want your next round of general officers to do with regards to social media engagement?”

Wormuth said, “One of the things I think that’s most important to [Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville] and I is keeping the Army apolitical and keeping it out of the culture wars.”

“Frankly we have got to be able to have a broad appeal,” Wormuth continued. “You know when only nine percent of kids are interested in serving we have got to make sure that we are careful about not alienating, you know, wide swaths of the American public to the Army.”

Wormuth shared her concerns about alienating the public just days after the U.S. Army concluded its worst year of recruiting on record, coming up 15,000 recruits short and missing their recruiting goal by a full 25 percent.

“We absolutely want our general officers out on social media but they need to exercise good judgment you know,” Wormuth said. “They need to be positive and factual about what the Army offers but not, I think, get drawn into frankly some of the inflammatory kind of environment that frankly Twitter really lends itself to.”

Wormuth was again prompted to address the investigation into Donahoe’s Twitter behavior later on in the press conference.

Task & Purpose reporter Haley Britzky raised a concern that the Army investigation into Donahoe would have a discouraging effect on women and soldiers of color in the Army.

“What would you say to you know the women in the army soldiers of color who saw this response to Pat Donahoe to this and thought the Army’s not going to have my back anymore, no one’s coming to my defense when these very volatile political figures come after them and and question their service and their belonging?” Britzky asked.

Wormuth said “I certainly do not want soldiers, you know, whether it’s women or whether it’s soldiers from, you know, other communities to feel alienated and I think you know we always want to have the backs of our soldiers. I think there are ways to do that that are more effective than others.”

Wormuth then noted Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Mike Grinston had promoted women in the Army in the face of political criticism without drawing the same kind of investigation that Donahoe had.

“I think there is absolutely a way to stand up for our soldiers and have their back,” Wormuth said. “But again, I think the the key really is tone and kind of you know looking at your audience.”

Later on, Wormuth said “we get criticized frankly sometimes for being woke.”

“I’m not sure what woke means,” Wormuth continued. “I think woke means a lot of different things to different people, but first of all I would say if woke means you know we are not focused on warfighting we are not focused on Readiness that doesn’t reflect what I see at installations all around the country or overseas when I go and visit.”

“I think you know we do have a wide range of soldiers in our army and we’ve got to make them all feel included and that’s why a lot of our diversity equity and inclusion programs are important,” Wormuth added.