Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin's deputy adjutant general for Army and the senior officer of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, began an additional assignment earlier this month as the special assistant for diversity to Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
In this three-year assignment — known as a dual-hat assignment — Anderson will advise Grass and other senior National Guard Bureau leaders on policies or programs that will impact diversity in the National Guard. He will also recommend new policies or programs — or changes to existing programs — that increase diversity and fosters an inclusive environment. This responsibility, Anderson explained, aims to develop a stronger organization which reflects the communities the National Guard serves.
"Personally, I view it as a fantastic opportunity," Anderson said, adding that he views the diversity initiative as one of the most significant cultural changes being implemented in the National Guard. A long-time diversity advocate — he has already served for more than four years on the National Guard Bureau Chief's Joint Diversity Executive Council, including time as the north-central region chairman, and co-chaired the Wisconsin National Guard's State Joint Diversity Council — Anderson said he recognizes the tangible and intangible value that understanding and embracing diversity and inclusion brings to an organization.
"Diversity is so much more than what we see on the outside," he said, noting that the National Guard views diversity as creating an environment where every service member has the same opportunities to reach their full potential. While gender, race and ethnicity are important factors to pay attention to, Anderson said intangible elements such as societal, economic, education, religion, sexual orientation and personal values are attributes which truly define diversity.
"Diversity of thought is just as important," Anderson said. "Organizations [that bring] a multitude of differing opinions and ideas when tackling an issue will generally achieve a more positive outcome. Strategically, organizations that embrace differences of opinion, background, gender and race are going to be more proactive and agile in adapting to change."
Anderson said embracing this understanding of diversity throughout the National Guard should lead to a better command climate, troop retention and, ultimately, mission readiness. He sees a direct correlation with the Army value of respect.
"I think most people can understand how diversity is central to living the value of respect," Anderson said. "Respecting others opinions, values, ideals and backgrounds not only leads to better harmony within a unit but better training, and a more inclusive environment for Soldiers or Airmen to develop and achieve the goals for which they joined the military in the first place."
Diversity training is an area where Anderson said the Army, and the National Guard, can improve.
"Within the National Guard community there is an effort currently underway to provide tools to states and territories to aid in promoting diversity and inclusion, as well as articulate why diversity is important to each and every service member as well as the unit and our organization as a whole," Anderson said.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, said Anderson brings a wealth of experience to this new role.
"Brig. Gen. Anderson is an exceptional officer and I'm proud of him," Dunbar said. "His leadership of the Wisconsin Army National Guard has been stellar, and he is a perfect fit for this new assignment on the national stage."
This is Anderson's second dual-hat assignment since becoming deputy adjutant general for Army seven years ago. In 2009 he served for three years as the deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard at the Field Artillery Center in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In this role he was the advisor and personal representative of the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence commanding general in matters of doctrine, training, leader development, force structure, resource management and operational execution.