Headlines, of course, tend to paint matters in black and white; the true picture of race relations in the American military is more one of half-full, half-empty. Although the Pentagon sat on the conclusions of the congressionally mandated race report for two years, grappling with how to present it to the public, the news it contained was not all bad. A high percentage of minority respondents reported that race relations have improved in the military in the past five years. And while twice as many minority respondents as white feel the military isn't doing enough to address racial problems, the great majority of problems reported were relatively innocuous. Further, 82 percent of white soldiers reported having a close black friend, a significantly higher proportion than reported by surveys of the civilian population.
Many within the military say that the armed forces' climate of teamwork promotes racial cohesiveness; at the same time, it can't entirely exclude the problems of the civilian world. "You talk to most soldiers and they say they're green," says TIME Washington correspondent Mark Thompson, referring to the color of Army uniforms. "But while things may be better once you're inside, the military can't erase human nature or the fruits of living in the outside world for 18 years. When you take them aside, they're real people who feel resentment and jealousy and all the other things that lead to racism."