Military Spent $1 Million Addressing Extremism, Diversity and Climate Change Last Year

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F-15 damaged after Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base
Airmen form the 325th Maintenance Squadron prepare to disassemble and transport a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle that was damaged after Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

The U.S. military spent $1 million and 5.8 million man hours last year on programs meant to root out extremism from the ranks, foster a diverse military and prepare for the national security challenges of climate change, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said in a recent letter to Congress.

The letter, dated Jan. 6, was released Tuesday by Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee who had asked Milley in November for details on money and time spent on those three areas, which have been a focus of Pentagon policymakers since President Joe Biden was inaugurated.

The majority of the money and time detailed in Milley's letter went toward the forcewide extremism stand-down Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered shortly after he took office.

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The military services, combatant commands and Joint Staff spent about 5.4 million man hours and $535,000 on the stand-down.

The man hours "averages to just over 2 hours per Service member in a total force of 2.46 million members and is comparable to other Joint Force periodic training requirements," Milley's letter stressed. The money reflects administrative costs and does not include salaries that would have been paid regardless of the type of work being done, the letter added.

Austin ordered the stand-down for units to discuss the issue of extremism after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The military has long struggled with rooting out extremists from its ranks, but the Capitol attack brought the issue to the forefront as dozens of those arrested were found to have military backgrounds.

Pentagon officials acknowledge the number of extremists in the military is small, but say even one is too many and corrosive to good order and discipline.

But although officials say they are prioritizing the issue, there continue to be signs the military is struggling to address cases tied to extremism. Of five service members charged in the Jan. 6 attack, just one Army reservist has been booted from the force, while a National Guardsman who pleaded guilty and has been sentenced has been allowed to remain in the Guard.

The Pentagon released a plan in December to combat extremism in the ranks, but experts said it fell short.

Republicans, though, have accused the Biden administration of overstating the threat of extremists in the ranks and using it as cover to attack conservatives in the military.

"We face real threats across the world, yet the Biden administration is more focused on promoting its leftist social agenda in the military instead of countering China, Russia and Iran or creating an effective counterterrorism plan," 12 Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a joint statement about Milley's letter.

The only Republican on the committee not to sign the statement was Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, though he has issued similar criticisms in the past.

The military has also spent 529,771 man hours on diversity, equity and inclusion training since Jan. 21, 2021, as well as $476,874 on contract support and administrative costs related to the training, according to Milley's letter.

Those figures do not include training that was in place prior to Jan. 21, 2021, such as the Army Equal Employment Opportunity Program, the letter said.

An investigative series by The Associated Press last year found that deep-rooted racism and discrimination in the services persist despite repeated efforts to stamp it out.

Republicans have attacked diversity, equity and inclusion training as "critical race theory," which is actually a complex legal theory largely confined to graduate school courses that examines the intersection of race and law.

Milley has previously sparred with Republicans over their accusations of the military promoting critical race theory and offered a robust defense of being well-read.

"I've read Mao Zedong. I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin," Milley said at a contentious congressional hearing in June. "That doesn't make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?"

The military also spent $5,000 and 1,059 man hours preparing the "Climate Adaptation Plan" the Pentagon released in October, according to Milley's letter.

The plan, which was required by an executive order Biden issued shortly after taking office, calls for making military bases energy self-sufficient and for service members to improve their "climate literacy."

Military officials have long identified climate change as a national security threat, both because issues caused by a changing climate such as food scarcity can lead to military conflict and because extreme weather can severely damage military bases.

For example, in 2018, hurricanes caused about $3.6 billion in damage to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and $4.7 billion in damage to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Pentagon Plan to Fight Extremism in the Ranks Is a Start, But Experts Say Problems Loom

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