Active-Duty Families Seek Transparency on Hate Crimes and Racism in Military Communities

Kirtland Air Force Base privatized military housing
Kirtland Air Force Base privatized military housing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Crawford)

A nonprofit group is lobbying for the Defense Department to provide data to service members on community safety, hate crimes and compassionate reassignments at prospective duty stations to help their decisions when accepting orders.

The Secure Families Initiative, a nonprofit founded in 2000 to provide military families a voice on national security and foreign policy matters, launched its "Campaign for PCS Safety" this week to advocate for the disclosure of information that may sway a family's decision to move -- especially households who belong to a racial minority.

Shalena Critchlow, the wife of a Marine veteran and mother of an active-duty Marine, said her family experienced racial discrimination when seeking housing in Birmingham, Alabama, where her husband was assigned to recruiting duty. Critchlow, who is of Mexican descent, and her husband, who is Black, were told not to stop on their drive from Alabama to Mississippi for a Marine Corps ball one year.

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"We weren't from the South and only in the area because of military orders. But that moment was the first time that I feared we might be in harm's way," Critchlow wrote in a blog post on the organization's website.

Roughly one-third of all active-duty service members identify themselves as members of a racial minority, and 18% say they are Latino or Hispanic. The Defense Department does not collect race or ethnic data on military family members, but the Secure Families Initiative says that nearly half say they belong to a minority group.

    A family's identities and composition are "rarely taken into account," however, when the military issues orders for a permanent change of station move, or PCS, according to the organization.

    With this in mind, the group says troops regardless of rank or ethnicity should be provided information to make informed decisions on PCS orders. SFI Organizing Director Brandi Jones said that, while many states provide crime data, little is available from the federal government on the safety of its installations.

    "The main takeaway is [there are] some policies that could help our families feel more safe ... like what is the crime rate, what are the hate crimes that are happening? Have you sent families home from this location for compassionate reassignment because of racial or ethnic bullying and how many? And was it a family like mine?" Jones said during an interview with

    Nearly universally, the spouses who spoke during a rollout session of the initiative on Facebook recounted experiences with racism in Southern states, although Utah also stands out as unfriendly to military families of color, said Kate Marsh Lord, the group's spokeswoman.

    "There's a specific base where multiple families have been reassigned for bullying, bullying in schools," Lord said during an interview.

    According to the Justice Department, the number of hate crimes in the U.S. rose from 10,840 in 2021 to 11,634 in 2022. Race-based crimes made up 56% of those incidents, while nearly 18% were related to religion -- largely anti-Jewish bias. Roughly 15% were crimes against gays or lesbians.

    The group is seeking uniformity across the services on policies that improve service members' quality of life, including adoption of a Navy initiative that lets sailors defer a PCS move for a year if they have a high school senior, and the Air Force's policy on expediting compassionate moves.

    Even if the information on future duty stations is readily available, refusing orders to a duty station can damage or even end a military career. Jones said the information still could help service members decide to leave their families at their current community or send them home while the military member moves, known as "geo-batching."

    SFI members met this spring with Senate Armed Services Committee members and staff seeking data transparency on crime, education policies and installation safety. They believe their voices have been heard, given that the Senate has included the creation of a commission on quality of life for military and civilian workers in its proposed fiscal 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, according to Jones.

    While the text of the bill has yet to be released, the commission’s creation is noted in the legislation’s executive summary published Monday.

    Jones said military children have a right to attend schools where they won't be bullied for their skin color, and spouses should be able to live in safe communities that feel like home. She added that the issues are also relevant to recruitment.

    Citing her own child's experience encountering racism at various duty stations, she could see why military dependents might not follow in their parents' footsteps.

    "These children ... are at that crossroad of having grown up and been treated this way, having concerns for their safety and not being included in the community. ... Would that be something they would want to continue?" Jones asked.

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