While growing up in the south Houston suburb of League City, Texas, Staff Sgt. Rocky Spells attended a high school with few minorities.
Raised by a single parent in a predominantly white community, Spells wanted to learn more about her African American ancestry. So, she enrolled in the historically Black Spelman College in downtown Atlanta, where she graduated with a biology degree in 2014.
Then Spells wanted to join the medical field but suffered from financial struggles. She saw enlisting in the Army as an opportunity to advance her career while also meeting her financial goals.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of an organization that valued and respected me as a woman, as an African American, and as a future mother and wife,” she said during a media panel Thursday, where Spells and Army recruiting leadership discussed how the service has made strides to bring more diversity into its ranks.
Seven years later, Spells now serves the Army as a licensed practical nurse and currently mentors potential recruits as a career counselor at Elizabeth City Recruiting Station, North Carolina. Her husband commissioned to become a registered nurse in the Army, and the couple recently welcomed a newborn daughter. She said that she found acceptance in the Army’s ranks and her peers welcomed her regardless of her race or ethnicity.
To help recruit more minorities and women within its ranks like Spells, U.S. Army Recruiting Command formed the Diversity Outreach Inclusion Team, or DOIT last year. Spells, as part of the 25-member special duty squad, has spread her life story through social media videos and has spoken at various recruiting events.
A mix of junior officers and enlisted leaders comprises the team whose members speak at outreach events and engages diverse audiences.
“We are more comfortable with those who can relate to us,” Spells said. “So young females are thrilled when I tell them ‘Yes, you can be a mom and still have a career.’ They are excited when I am able to share with them my experiences as far as not really having to sacrifice who I am as a person and still serve my country.”
The Army launched the DOIT initiative to help foster diversity and inclusion in its ranks in accordance with the Army’s People Strategy. The service also announced that it will add 25 JROTC locations nationwide in areas of diversity. The service will also launch a cyber pilot program that will attract minorities to STEM career fields.
In 2021, the Army commissioned twice as many women in combat career fields as it had in previous years, accounting for 25% of newly commissioned officers. Additionally, the service reported a satisfaction rate of 73% among cadets, up 5% from the previous year, with 95% of cadets receiving their top 5 career choices.
The Army currently has ROTC detachments at 69 historically Black colleges and various Hispanic universities. Over the past decade the Army has increased ROTC commissions for students of African American, Latino and Asian descent, said Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, who leads U.S. Army Cadet Command.
Last year USACC began its General Cavazos internship program where it sent 30 lieutenants to spend 15-18 months at predominantly Hispanic academic institutions. The junior officers receive special training to help recruit Hispanic Americans into Army ROTC programs. Under the Army’s Urban Access program, the service has been visiting the nation’s largest cities to attract more minority recruits.
The Army has pledged to include greater inclusivity in its recruiting methods including fostering greater relationships with historically African American and Latino institutions, Davis said.
In the urban centers of Houston and Los Angeles, the Army has established Strategic Officer Recruiting Detachments [SORDs] and hosted discussions on increasing diversity representation in its officer corps.
Through a partnership with the Marine Corps, the Army has also held workshops in underprivileged communities to encourage STEM and ACT participation among students. The SORDs attempt to spread awareness of senior ROTC programs and outreach with city officials, taking part in career fairs, and through counseling sessions.
“We are an Army that wants to look like America,” said Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, USAREC commander. “So, our men and women of different backgrounds and ethnicities are all across the U.S. in all zip codes, interacting with young men and women to really inform, educate, and allow them the opportunities to make informed decisions.”
Through the SORDs, the Army will offer scholarships to 30 seniors in the high school class of 2022. The students rank in the Top 5% of their class, typically take part in more than one varsity sport, and are leaders in their community or school.
“They’re leaders in their schools and leaders in the community,” said Col. Stephen Ruth, Director of the SORD Task Force. “We are looking for people that are difference makers and impact players. And we want them to join our team so we can develop those skills in practice in service to their country … and then come back into that community and strengthen that community.”
USAREC hopes its combined efforts within the SORD task force and the DOIT initiative, will increase diversity in the Army’s officer corps and enlisted ranks. USAREC created DOIT by selecting male and female leaders of various ethnicities and diverse backgrounds who embody Army values. Each leader that was selected has a college degree and top physical fitness.
“We've kind of found the right mix of non-commissioned officers and officers,” Vereen said. “We use them in a variety of ways: to help promote … with some of our influencers including our educational leaders who don't have a lot of experiences about the Army. And so, it's the personal stories that really win the day and enlightened and informed [potential recruits].”
While Vereen said that the DOIT initiative has been “effective,” pandemic restrictions have limited its reach and USAREC will have a more thorough assessment of its impact in 2022.
Brig. Gen. Daphne Davis said attracting more females to service, recruiters will present the Army Reserve as an option, allowing women more time to spend with their families while serving their country part-time.
“Many of the opportunities in the Army Reserve offer the flexibility that some of our women are looking for; they're able to stay close to home while serving part-time in the military,” she said.