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Home : News
NEWS | Feb. 2, 2023

Illinois Guard Diversity Leader Fosters Inclusive Culture

By Sgt. Trenton Fouche, Joint Force Headquarters - Illinois National Guard Public Affairs

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Fort Jackson in South Carolina was a long way from the south side of Chicago where Army Capt. Anthony McClain grew up. The intensity of basic combat training and drill sergeants yelling in his face didn’t prepare him to interact with another Soldier one afternoon in the barracks.

McClain’s bunkmate, a white Soldier from a small town in West Virginia, asked McClain if he could touch his skin. The Soldier had never seen a black person in real life. The two trainees became good friends, but the experience expanded McClain’s cultural awareness and understanding of diversity. Twenty-seven years later, McClain serves as the Illinois National Guard director of diversity and inclusion.

McClain leads the Illinois National Guard’s diversity, inclusion and access program and strives to help the Guard achieve a more inclusive organizational culture.

“We have an obligation to develop, mentor and retain top talent reflective of the communities we serve,” McClain said. “Some of my responsibilities include striving to improve the representation of underrepresented groups to ensure each individual in the Illinois National Guard has the opportunity, guidance and information necessary to reach their maximum potential.”

The Illinois National Guard has faced some diversity challenges. Although the ILNG is diverse at the junior enlisted ranks, it loses this diversity among senior noncommissioned and commissioned officers.

“We have recognized the low number of female and underrepresented groups in the senior ranks. This is not just a state issue but also nationwide. We are working with the Army and Air diversity leads to identify barriers to leadership diversity,” McClain said.

“A lot of it has to do with promotion opportunities, getting married, having families, the length of schools and civilian obligations,” McClain said. “For example, if a female decides to have children, she may start to fall behind her peers. Not just in the military but also in her civilian career. We have to find better ways to support and assist in the decision to stay in the Guard. We must focus on building diversity into all ILNG leadership pipelines.”

“To sit in this role, you truly have to care about people,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the adjutant general of Illinois and commander of the Illinois National Guard. “Anyone who has been around Capt. McClain can attest that he is passionate about people and the betterment of this organization.”

McClain spent the first 15 years of his career on the enlisted side, making it to sergeant first class before attending the 129th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) Officer Candidate School on Camp Lincoln. Throughout his career, he has worked in human resources but has a background in logistics and operations. He credits his upbringing and family for helping him to accomplish his goals.

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in a single-parent home,” McClain said. “There were definitely some challenges, but we didn’t let it stop us. Today, I’m the person that always roots for the underdog. My desire to want to serve came from wanting to go to college and have a career that I can take pride in. The National Guard gave me an opportunity to obtain both, and I think that everyone should know that this opportunity exists, no matter what community you come from.

“I had family that served, so I kind of always knew,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don’t know about the opportunities the National Guard can provide. We’re taking steps to change that by going out into those communities so that we better reflect the state of Illinois.”

McClain helps coach and educate people on promotion rates and what branches and military occupational specialties help service members hit their career marks.

“It’s important for individuals to have their sights on what they want to do in their careers, but also have a leader that pulls them to the side to discuss their options,” McClain said. “Laying out a career timeline that factors life events and planning for those events is extremely important. You should factor in where you want to be as far as your military career, your education, family and civilian goals.”