Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, left, looks on as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrives at the Pentagon.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, left, looks on as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrives at the Pentagon. Getty Images

‘That’s Why I Wear the Uniform:’ Milley Calls Racial, Religious Equality His ‘North Star’

The chairman’s remarks at an ROTC commissioning come amid Pentagon efforts to address inequality in the ranks.

The U.S. military’s newest officers are a key part of the deep institutional changes underway in the Defense Department, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told 21 graduating ROTC cadets at Howard University Wednesday. 

“It is your generation that can and will bring the joint force to be truly inclusive of all peoples,” Milley told the young men and women of color from universities around the region, who are committing to a variety of active duty intelligence, infantry and National Guard roles after they graduate. “So you are about to take an oath, and this will forever be your North Star, your home base in a storm. Your moral center. It will be your center of gravity.” 

Milley pulled from words and ideas that had helped guide his advice to the force during some of its most tumultuous times in recent history, after he found himself and National Guard troops in the middle of former President Trump’s controversial decision to use them to clear protestors for a photo op just days after the murder of George Floyd. 

On June 2, just a day after the incident, Milley wrote to the force. In a handwritten note scrawled at the bottom of the official message, told service members: “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America. We will stay true to that oath and the American people.”

The idea, Milley said Wednesday, is what unifies the country and is the foundational principle for why he wears the uniform. 

“The United States military, those of us in uniform, we all swear this oath. And we don't swear an oath to a person, to a government, to a king or queen. We don't swear an oath to a tyrant or a dictator, a tribe or political party or religion. No. We swear an oath to an idea.” 

“It's very simple,” Milley told the cadets. “All it says is, you and I, no matter who you are, whether you're male or female, gay or straight or trans or something in between. It doesn't matter if you're Catholic or your Protestant. If you're Muslim or Jew or you choose not to believe at all. Doesn't matter if you're Black or white, or Asian or Indian. It doesn't matter the color of your skin. It doesn't matter where you came from, what your last name is, what your country of origin is. None of that matters. Doesn't matter if you're rich or you're poor, famous or common. What matters is that in this country, in these United States, under these colors of red, white and blue, each and every one of us is born free and equal. 

“And you're going to rise, you're going to fall, based on your knowledge, your skills, your attributes. Your hard work. And you're going to be judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin. That is the core organizing principle of the United States of America. That is the vision of our country, that is written into the Constitution. And that must always be our North Star, and our goal to form a more perfect union. That is why I wear the uniform. That is why you are wearing the uniform. That is why you are taking an oath, and that is why you will fight.”