The Pentagon's chief spokesman on Tuesday stood by efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the military, even as criticism from some conservative lawmakers and commentators has grown.
During a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the Defense Department respects lawmakers' oversight role, but he declined to comment on any specific efforts from legislators.
He said the department is focused on defending the nation, adding that doing so means creating an environment where talented people feel comfortable working.
"You need good people," Kirby said. "And if you meet the standards, and you're qualified to be in the military, and you're willing to raise your hand and serve this country, we want you to be able to do it ... free of hate and fear and discrimination.
"That's the very least we can do," he continued. "And there's no apologies for that. No apologies whatsoever for wanting to create that kind of a working environment."
Kirby's comments come amid a rising chorus of conservatives decrying DoD programs -- which Pentagon leaders say are to improve diversity and inclusion, or to root out extremists in the ranks -- as examples of excessive political correctness. Some lawmakers have derided the efforts as "wokeness" run amok or persecution of service members with conservative beliefs.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a former Navy SEAL, launched a webpage last week inviting service members to anonymously blow the whistle on "woke ideology" in the military.
"Enough is enough," he wrote on Twitter when announcing the website. "We won't let our military fall to woke ideology."
Crenshaw said submissions would be shared with the office of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., adding that they plan to publish, anonymously and with submitters' permission, "egregious complaints" about "what's happening in our military."
"For too long, progressive Pentagon staffers have been calling the shots for our warfighters, and spineless military commanders have let it happen," Crenshaw continued. "Now we are going to expose you."
Last month, some Republicans rallied around Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, who was fired from squadron command over comments he made on a podcast promoting his new book. Lohmeier argued that Marxist and leftist ideologies are taking over the military and weakening it in the process.
He said on the podcast that "leftist" practices such as diversity and inclusion training are causing the divisive climate in America.
In a May 22 statement, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he is concerned about how the Pentagon handled Lohmeier's case.
"Members of our military should not only be able to speak out against Marxism, but they should be encouraged to do so -- as long as they follow the rules and laws already in place," Inhofe said.
The military in recent years -- going back to the Trump and Obama administrations -- has made improving diversity a priority. Defense leaders have argued that the military cannot afford to discourage talented young women or members of minority groups from joining or advancing if it is going to be at its strongest.
For example, Air Force officials have consistently made improving the diversity of the service's pilot ranks -- in which women and minorities are underrepresented -- a top priority.
Last month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army Gen. Mark Milley said in a speech that the military must widen advancement opportunities for Black service members, who remain significantly underrepresented in the top ranks.
"Opportunity in our military must be reflective of the diverse talent in order for us to remain strong," he said during a May 5 ROTC commissioning ceremony at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Some Twitter commenters mocked Crenshaw's effort to collect stories about excessive political correctness. They began submitting, and then sharing on Twitter, parody complaints that were, in actuality, thinly veiled references to service members in movies such as "Stripes" and "A Few Good Men."
"My Sgt Referred to me as Francis even after I VERY SPECFICALLY ASKED NOT TO BE ADDRESSED THAT WAY," one commenter wrote as if he were the high-strung character nicknamed "Psycho" in "Stripes." "One of my comrades ... sounds suspiciously like Garfield and I'm pretty sure our battle tank is actually an RV. This is not a way to maintain military discipline."