Diversity & The Bar™

The U.S. Armed Forces: Diversity Starts at the Top

By Michelle Bates Deakin

See also: Armed Forces General Counsel - At a Glance

The U.S. Armed Forces boast one of the most integrated workforces in the nation. In minority communities, it is widely recognized that military service offers men and women of color career opportunities — either through working their way up the ranks or by taking advantage of the G.I. Bill.1 Major corporations that are committed to diversity have studied the armed forces’ success at retaining and promoting minorities and many of the nation’s top general counsel have military service backgrounds. What is less well known is that this commitment to diversity goes beyond the rank and file and all the way to civilian leadership.

"The Army looks like the country in its diversity," says Steven J. Morello, who was sworn in as general counsel of the Department of the Army in July 2001. "And its leadership team tells a diverse story, too," he continued.

Morello’s own story starts as the son of a Chippewa mother, who is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians. (When he applied for the post of Army general counsel, one of the letters of recommendation that Morello submitted was from the tribal chairman.) He earned degrees from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and the University of Detroit Law School, as well as a Masters of Science in Business Administration (MSBA) from Boston University and a Pastoral Studies degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Morello has spent 20 years in corporate practice with the last 10 years as general counsel. Most recently, he served as vice president and general counsel at Prechter Holdings, Inc., a diversified Michigan corporation involved in automobile systems manufacturing, newspapers, real estate development, and cattle ranching. Morello also held posts at Digital Equipment Corporation and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Defense Systems Division. Prior to entering the corporate world, Morello served for five years as an Army Judge Advocate in The Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Morello’s general counsel work with for-profit corporations is a far cry from his role with the Army, where he leads a headquarters staff of more than 40 lawyers and legal support personnel, and provides technical supervision and professional guidance to over 5000 Department of the Army attorneys in legal offices worldwide. "In the private sector, the focus was on making money. What drives the for-profit world is quarterly statements," he says. "In the Army, we are conscious of our role as stewards, but it’s not the money that drives our decisions. It’s figuring out what is the ethically proper thing to do and not endangering our soldiers in the field." And unlike many companies in the private sector, Morello notes, the Army reflects the country’s demographics from top to bottom.

Less than three months after Morello was sworn in, the Pentagon — his new office — was attacked on September 11, 2001. Soon after that, the anthrax scare erupted. Then the Army’s operations in Afghanistan began. The Iraq war started and the Washington-area sniper hit. Consequently, Morello hardly has a typical day as the Army’s chief legal officer.

"It’s been one significant action after another," says Morello, with a measured, calm tone that belies the catastrophic events that have marked his tenure. "Since the president declared global war on terrorism, we’ve been totally focused on that one objective and training the best army we can to achieve that objective."

Even with that total focus on terrorism, Morello has also had to keep the day-to-day legal operations running smoothly, while also overseeing the Army’s worldwide ethics program. And he’s done it all while maintaining a sharp eye on the diversity of the Army’s lawyers and the elite "Honors" Program attorneys he has handpicked to work in his office.

Eye on Diversity

Members of the Honors Program are recruited from the nation’s law schools to work in the general counsel’s office at the Pentagon. Morello’s Honors Program attorneys are diverse and consist of four attorneys: a white woman, an African-American man, and two white men. The Honors Program is an option for top law school graduates with Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) scholarships to fulfill their service obligation in the Pentagon, rather than in the JAG Corps. "It can really whet their appetites for public service," says Morello. "And it gives them a chance to see all the ins and outs of service at the highest level," he continues. Many Honors Program members do move on to high level government jobs. For example, the current general counsel for the Department of Defense, William J. Haynes II, is a former Honors attorney, as are senior lawyers in the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy.

In Morello’s office, it’s a well-established practice to find a diverse cross-section of candidates. "We find out who is best qualified, then the question becomes, ‘How do we best represent America,’" Morello says. "But the thing I find very refreshing is that diversity is so ingrained in the selection process. The best qualified people with the most diverse outlooks are recommended to me."

Lawyers who impress Morello are those who are not just highly skilled and motivated, but also those who are "centers of influence," and "good human beings" who lead by example.

Steven J. Morello

Morello’s own role is primarily to advise the Secretary of the Army about the application of law, regulation, and policy as it applies to the Army. Morello prefers to think of his job in simpler terms, however. "I’m here to make life better for soldiers and their families," he says. "If I can do that through the application of law, elimination of red tape, and elimination of things that make it more difficult for soldiers to serve, I’m more than happy to," says Morello.

He’s also the Army’s Chief Ethics Officer and, consequently, serves as the final authority for all ethics matters affecting the Army’s approximately two million members. He sits at the top of a chain of influence that extends around the world, connecting Army ethics counselors with every officer and enlisted person in the service.

Additionally, he keeps a sharp eye on the appropriate balance between the ratio of civilian lawyers to military lawyers. "The secretary of defense has made a big point of the fact that if someone is wearing a uniform, they are doing work that civilians can’t do," Morello explains. "Likewise, I always ask myself, ‘Is the lawyer in uniform doing what a lawyer in uniform should be doing?’ Together, the Judge Advocate General of the Army and I make sure that military personnel do the appropriate work.

ith his private sector business experience, combined with an MSBA and a pastoral studies degree, Morello brings a cross-section of skills to the job, and he finds a way to use them all. "Every decision I make has a legal foundation to it. And to some extent it has a business foundation, because we’re dealing with vast sums of money, and we need to spend it in a legal and effective way," he says.

Photo: Honorable Steven J. Morello, General Counsel of the Department of the Army and his staff. Top (left to right): Captain Jonathan Clark, Robert Davenport, Captain Benjamin Kearney, Captain Kathleen Kenney, Captain Darin Johnson, and Colonel Amy Frisk. Bottom (left to right): Levator Norsworthy, Jr., Deputy General Counsel, Acquisition; the Honorable Steven J. Morello, General Counsel; and Avon N.Williams, III, Principal Deputy General Counsel.

Tenure Shaped by 9/11

After 9/ 11, Morello’s pastoral degree was put to use. During the investigation and cleanup of the Pentagon, many chaplains worked at the site, providing aid and comfort to Pentagon employees and rescue workers. Morello made a habit of visiting the chaplains every day during lunchtime to find out how they were doing and what they might need. "I was like a chaplain’s chaplain," he says, noting that, even though he is a civilian, his office confers upon him the protocol rank of a four-star general. Consequently, he was able to make things happen quickly for the chaplains, even if it was just arranging for them to get needed supplies.

That experience, and the 9/ 11 attack, has shaped his entire tenure as general counsel. Each day as he walks to work, he can see the rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. Before 9/ 11, he looked at the cemetery with reverence and thought generally about the service that soldiers gave to their country. But now, he knows people buried there who died in the 9/ 11 attack. "Everything I do now is serious business," he says.

While fact-finding missions have sent Morello to sensitive areas of the world, such as Afghanistan, Korea, and Kuwait, more often, he travels within the United States. Morello always makes time to meet with soldiers and junior lawyers in the JAG Corps. "That’s where the action is as far as Army law is concerned," says Morello. "I’m always curious to know how the junior lawyers — the captains — are doing."

During his tenure as Army General Counsel — as in his five years of active duty in the JAG Corps — Morello remains impressed by the Army’s commitment to diversity. "The Army is a great opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds who want to make a contribution to their country regardless of their ethnicity," says Morello.

"It’s a myth that you can’t find qualified people of a diverse background," Morello concludes.

Michelle Bates Deakin is a freelancer writer based in Arlington, Mass.


  1. The G.I. Bill, officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, provided many benefits to veterans of war. It established veterans’ hospitals, provided for vocational rehabilitation, made low-interest mortgages available, and granted stipends covering tuition and living expenses for veterans attending college or trade schools. Subsequent legislation extended these benefits to veterans of other wars, and the Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 extended them to all who served in the armed forces, even in peacetime.

From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®

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