By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – As the top civilian leader over Defense Department personnel and readiness, Clifford L. Stanley is overseeing service members and their families through changing times. His best experience to guide that leadership, he says, is his 33 years on active duty.
“I’ve smelled the cordite. I’ve actually lived in the mud. I’m an infantry officer, retired,” he said during a June 7 interview with American Forces Press Service. “As a result, there’s a different perspective I bring to the table.”
A retired Marine Corps major general who holds a doctorate degree, Stanley was appointed as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness in February 2010. His tenure will include overseeing the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, increasingly unpredictable military and humanitarian missions, personnel improvements for women and gays in the military, and constricting defense budgets.
The military has changed greatly – although not enough, Stanley is quick to say – in the four decades since he joined. When he entered the Marine Corps in 1969, he had very few African-American role models. The Marine Corps had only 100 black officers, he said, and the two most senior were lieutenant colonels. “When I made general, I was it in terms of race and ethnicity,” he said.
The increasingly diverse force has made it easier to work through issues such as discrimination, Stanley said. “With diversity, you actually have a better environment to talk about those issues because people approach the same issues differently.”
Another change for the better, Stanley said, is that people are beginning to take a much broader view of diversity than simply gender, race and ethnicity. “There’s a tendency to think that’s all there is. But there’s a lot more than that,” he said. “I can’t overemphasize that enough.”
Stanley’s passion for diversity of thought extends into the military chain of command. “When people think differently, [other] people have a tendency to quash them,” he said. “When you’re in a regimented environment, not thinking like your boss can be a career ender. I have some challenges to that kind of environment.”
Indeed, he said, “I feel the most comfortable when I’m around people who are not thinking like I’m thinking.
“We need people from different backgrounds, different geographical areas, who’ve gone to different schools, and have different skill sets and talents. One talent is not better than another,” he added. “We can all add to this great nation of strength.”
One thing that has not changed, Stanley said, is the ability of military service, especially combat experience, to break down barriers between people’s differences.
“One of the beauties I observed while serving -- even in an environment that was pretty tough, sometimes hostile -- when you are working side by side and people get to know you, that stuff falls down,” he said. “When they really get to know you, when their life depends on it, there’s no place for it. And they see it.
“When you are working and protecting somebody’s back“ he added, “there’s no place for it.”