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Marine Corps Day at the 49th annual National Naval Officers Association Leadership, Professional Development and Training Symposium began with a prayer and a biblical verse from Chaplain Takana Jefferson. She spoke about the importance of friendship and encouraging others when uplifting words or actions are needed. “Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” Jefferson said.

While the country was on lockdown due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people struggled with mental health. The isolation was devastating for some, and Jefferson said this is proof that people need each other. She said wisdom and growth are something we should all strive for and emphasized the importance of mentorship and representation. “Remember to be the voice for those who do not have a voice,” Jefferson said.

Gen. David Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said he tends to look at the future of the Marine Corps and his contributions to further advance the branch. He said mental diversity and critical thinking skills are essential to the Marine Corps to continue progressing in areas that need help such as diversity and inclusion.

The first step in talent management is to attract the absolute best people to the Marine Corps, according to Berger. He stated that a diverse team has more talent and is more efficient, but diversity is not only achieved through the human element. He believes that in order to make the necessary progress, Marines should tap into available technology such as artificial intelligence to help with the decisions and vision of the Marine Corps.

Berger identified the difference between equity and equality. With equality, the assumption is that everyone starts at the same place and has the same opportunities, but that is not the case most of the time. Everyone has different challenges and struggles to overcome from the beginning of their lives.

According to Berger, equity can be achieved by giving people the tools and resources they need to succeed and understanding where they are starting. This helps the Marine Corps gather a diverse group of people with different views, life experiences, and problem-solving skills. “We can’t afford to waste a talent, we can’t afford to leave a Marine behind,” Berger said.

When it comes to creating a diverse team, Berger said leaders should look at individuals instead of numbers. He said this is a matter of identifying our own unconscious biases and being proactive in addressing these biases.

Inclusion is an important aspect of the conversation. Berger said every Marine must feel like they belong and should be reminded that they have been successful because of their talent instead of feeling like a token. “Success is when no Marine asks if they are where they are because they’re a minority,” Berger said.

Berger believes that inclusion pertains to more than just race and ethnicity. Regarding representation, economic background, religion, political views, and gender are some examples of categories in which he believes the Marine Corps can improve. He said that there is a serious lack of diversity in general and flag officers, but it will take time to reach true diversity at the command level. However, Berger is hopeful that the Marine Corps is moving in the right direction.

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said that the Marine Corps is a war-fighting organization and should put an emphasis on being a lethal force, which he believes is achieved by recruiting people with different ideas and values. Talent in the Marine Corps should include talent from all levels of society otherwise people will not see themselves represented in the organization and will go elsewhere.

“This isn’t about being ‘woke’ or any of that other stuff, this is about war-fighting,” Smith said. “We have to contain the war-fighting capability of this organization.”

Maj. Gen. William Seely said the Marine Corps is moving in the right direction and he believes the message senior leadership is sending is resonating. From his own experience, he said most senior leadership he has worked with have been white men. He suggested different recruiting methods such as visiting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and giving students the necessary information to help them better understand the mission of the Marine Corps.

“In terms of those who don’t get it or won’t get it in the diversity, equity, and inclusion domain, remember, ‘Dinosaurs become extinct,’” Retired Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, president of the NNOA, said.

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