So from a leader’s standpoint it was just trying to
understand [the troops]. I was incredibly comfortable
on the one hand; on the other hand, it was an area in
which I constantly wanted to learn more. I was trying
to force myself, sometimes even unknowingly, to grow.
I knew I needed to. I needed to know about their background. I need to know what made them tick.
A classmate of mine is Charlie Bolden, who now runs
NASA [as administrator]. Charlie Bolden and I showed
up at the Naval Academy the same day. I came from
this nice, neat, middle-class, white neighborhood in
Southern California, sort of “Ozzie and Harriet” land.
Charlie came from South Carolina and struggled. We
were classmates and we’re great friends but from completely different environments. I wanted to understand
from Charlie what motivates him, what his struggles
were. It was a pretty easy conversation to have.
VISCONTI When you became CNO, we had a meeting
of the Senior Advisory Group and your vice chief came
in. We had a discussion that went around the room on
the definition of diversity: What do you think of the
definition? I said I think it’s too vague, and the people
who need to hear this the most are not going to under-
stand what this means. Your vice chief, from our audi-
ence, a four-star admiral, slapped his palm on the table
and said, “That’s right. This CNO is worried about two
groups first, Black people and women, because those are
the two groups we hurt the most.”
That was a moment of extreme clarity, one from
which you could not mistake the direction in which we
needed to go. Could you talk about that a little bit? Why
is that clarity important?
ADM. MULLEN The vagueness you just described in
diversity is something that if you’re not clear then
becomes all things to all people. Diversity has wonderful characteristics across a large number of fields, areas,
people, whatever the case might be. I didn’t want there
to be any confusion about what I was going to focus on
as the CNO. I was not trying to cut out other groups.
I was not trying to dis anybody in that regard. From a
leadership standpoint, I thought where the Navy needed
to go—and I was intending to take them there—was to
focus heavily on African Americans and women. I wanted to send a very clear signal about what we were going
to focus on.
In retrospect, I wish I had added the Hispanic group
because the Hispanic group had not been as visible
to me, as active. I hadn’t been exposed to it as much,
although in this job I certainly now see those who are
of Hispanic heritage in all the services. They’re incredible people. I wish I had been more focused with respect
to that, and I actually in execution made that a priority
once that light went on.
VISCONTI I think that the discrimination of Latinos in
the service, from an organizational standpoint, was not as
headline-worthy as it was for women and Black people.
From a leadership standpoint, I thought where the
Navy needed to go—and I was intending to take them there—
was to focus heavily on African Americans and women.