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A colonel promoted diversity. So a GOP senator is blocking his promotion.

Once upon a time in another America, many considered diversity, equity and inclusion fundamental national values, at least nominally.

Now those notions are so reviled in much of America that one senator is threatening the promotion of a highly qualified and praised Air Force officer.

Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt (Mo). is blocking Col. Benjamin Jonsson’s promotion to brigadier (one star) general because of the officer’s perceptive but provocative Air Force Times article, headlined “Dear white colonel … we must address our blind spots around race.”

Jonsson’s July 2020 commentary, in the form of a letter to colleagues, was posted five weeks after George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer. The commentary reflects how Floyd’s homicide and the following period of racial reckoning affected Jonsson.

“As white colonels,” he wrote, “you and I are the biggest barriers to change if we do not personally address racial injustice in our Air Force. Defensiveness is a predictable response by white people to any discussion of racial injustice. White colonels are no exception. We are largely blind to institutional racism, and we take offense to any suggestion that our system advantaged us at the expense of others.

“That I addressed this letter to white colonels made many of you uneasy, and we have seen similar white defensiveness play out in many of our conversations since the murder of George Floyd.”

Jonsson included specific examples of White defensiveness among his colleagues, but White colonels aren’t the only folks Jonsson made uneasy.

He was highlighted in an article in the Daily Signal, published by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. Jonsson’s piece was three years old when the Signal’s story ran last August during a widely criticized, almost nine-month hold by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on 455 senior military promotions, including Jonsson’s.

The Signal, which researched those awaiting promotion, quoted William Thibeau, the Claremont Institute’s American Military Project director, saying, “Col. Jonsson exhibited a toxic embrace of DEI policies that have no place in the U.S. military. His public characterization of ‘white colonels’ blindness is inherently divisive and sends shock waves through his command.”

In December, Tuberville lifted his hold, but Schmitt immediately used an individual senator’s right to block nominations to continue holding up Jonsson’s promotion. He was originally nominated by President Biden in January 2023.

“It is long past time to root out divisive DEI policies and their advocates from our apolitical military,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Leaders must emphasize unity of mission and purpose, not our immutable differences if we are to maintain our military as the greatest meritocracy in the world.”

Jonsson was mistakenly included in the Senate’s mass approval of senior military leaders in December, but then his nomination was quickly withdrawn because of Schmitt’s hold.

Leadership is one of Jonsson’s strongest characteristics, according to colleagues, including a top Trump administration Defense Department appointee.

Heather Wilson, who was secretary of the Air Force during Donald Trump’s presidency, is a former Republican member of Congress and an Air Force veteran. She supports Jonsson, who was one of her Pentagon military assistants.

“Ben has been a commander or vice commander four times, and has done exceptionally well as a leader,” said Wilson, now president of the University of Texas at El Paso. “The military has very few officers this well prepared in an area of the world of vital national interest to the United States.”

Jonsson’s bio points to that preparedness, which includes now working in a position meant for a one-star as chief of staff for the Air Mobility Command, with 110,000 employees headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Born in Upstate New York and raised in Plymouth, Minn., the Air Force Academy graduate is fluent in Arabic, has seven Air Medals, and flew 900 combat hours over Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. His friends describe him as a devout Christian devoted to his biracial family.

“He is absolutely qualified for promotion,” said Kris Bauman, a retired Air Force colonel who hired Jonsson in 2017 to work on Jordanian affairs at the White House’s National Security Council under Trump. “He has had incredibly successful commands at all levels and has served in an exemplary manner at the highest levels of our government. He is exactly the kind of critical, strategic thinker that we desperately need to be leading our forces.”

Bauman blamed “politics to serve the ‘anti-woke’ agenda” for the hold.

“The irony is that the hold is preventing the promotion of a conservative Christ-follower who actually takes the teachings of Jesus seriously, who puts his faith into action in a manner that leads to flourishing for everyone he leads, regardless of their faith or race,” Bauman added.

Jonsson was not alone in his fight against institutional racism. Just days after Floyd’s death, retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein penned a commentary on the Air Force website that said that “we are not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination, and unconscious bias. … Discussing our different life experiences and viewpoints can be tough, uncomfortable, and therefore often avoided. But we have been presented a crisis. We can no longer walk by this problem.”

Furthermore, Jonsson’s article is in keeping with official Air Force Standards, which say, “Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are key to Air Force standards and missions. Diversity of thought, experience, and perspectives is critical to innovation and maintaining the Air Force’s competitive advantage. …. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are about strengthening our force and ensuring our long-term viability to support Air Force missions with dignity and respect.” The top of the document says, “COMPLIANCE … IS MANDATORY” in caps.

The White House, the Pentagon, the NAACP, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, support Jonsson’s promotion.

His message to Air Force decision-makers in 2020 was direct, hopeful and applies well beyond the military.

“Dear white colonel,” he wrote, “you and I set the culture, drive the calendar, and create the policies at most of our installations around the Air Force. If we do not take the time to learn, to show humility, to address our blind spots around race, and to agree that we are not as objective as we think and our system is not as fair as we think, then our Air Force will not rise above George Floyd’s murder. But we can rise above it, we can break these invisible barriers, if we choose to engage and stop excusing ourselves.”

Jonsson’s nomination expires May 1 if he is not confirmed by then.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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