WASHINGTON — Equal Opportunity Advisor of the Year Master Sgt. Kelly Grimes motivated Marines to think beyond gender and race this year, but it is Sgt. Jason Smith who has captivated the military ranks after becoming the first white male to fill a billet which has long excluded men of no color.
While diversity and inclusion typically define the EO program, Sgt. Smith is breaking down barriers and redefining what an EO advisor looks like in today’s military, sources say.
“Seeing a white man as the battalion Equal Opportunity advisor shows us what is possible if we stay positive and focus not on what we’ve been historically denied,” said Cmdr. Luis Kennedy, the chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines. “But rather what we can achieve when we refuse to let our appearances determine who we become.”
Smith, who was raised in Springfield, Illinois and attended Wright Secondary School for the Gifted, claims he never intended to break any barriers in the military.
“I honestly had never even felt prejudice until I joined the military,” Smith said. “That was when I realized that white men face real challenges in the world.”
Smith said he decided to request the appointment when he was in his unit’s men’s bathroom and noticed it was mostly non-white faces looking back at him.
“It was the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response advisor, and the EO advisor, neither of them white, staring right at me,” said Smith. “It was like a wall of privileged Marines saying to me, ‘You don't belong here.’”
Many members of Smith's unit say the decision to appoint him was met with surprisingly little contention. Gunnery Sgt. Letisha Jones, who preceded Smith, claimed the position was one she hadn’t asked for anyway.
“I honestly wondered why they picked me in the first place,” said Jones. “If Equal Opportunity is the mission, why am I not the company gunnery sergeant?”