In times of crisis, people naturally look to leaders for guidance. Officials from every branch of the military are responding to the widespread civil discontent in the wake of recent protests and riots, following the death of George Floyd. Across the Armed Forces, leadership has affirmed that our military upholds the Constitution and rights guaranteed to every citizen, urging service members and citizens alike to acknowledge and respect the dignity of every other American.
Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein promised that he, along with Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright would ensure "liberty and justice for all" in the upcoming weeks and have resolved to "[Independently] review our legal system, racial injustice and opportunities for advancement." Directly reprimanding racism in the Air Force, he further stated that, "I do know there is no room for bigotry, hatred or small mindedness in our Force. Period."
Likewise, Sergeant Major Troy Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, issued an address June 3 reminding Marines and civilians alike to work toward eliminating the source of racism and closing the growing divide between Americans.
In a previous speech addressing the removal of the Confederate flag from Marine bases, Black stated, "Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion, must be addressed head-on." He continued, "There is no place in our Corps for racists – whether their intolerance and prejudice be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional. Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division – rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself."
The Army's address, crafted by Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, as well as Sergeant Major Michael A. Grinston and General James C. McConville, promised to uphold the values it was founded upon: those of the Constitution.
"Just as we reflect the best of America, we reflect its imperfections as well… Every Soldier and Department of the Army Civilian swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We will continue to support and defend those rights, and we will continue to protect Americans, whether from enemies of the United States overseas, from COVID-19 at home, or from violence in our communities that threatens to drown out the voices begging us to listen."
Sergeant Major of the Army Grinston tweeted, on the same day the address was released, that the Army protects the American people and way of life, which includes the right to peacefully protest. He implored followers to, "Stand Tall!"
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also issued a statement on Tuesday, June 2nd, reminding the military that its primary responsibility is to uphold the Constitution, to include the belief that all men and women are born free and equal. Milley promised that the services will preserve peace and public safety and encouraged all Americans to honor the respect and dignity of every citizen.
"We in uniform - all branches, all components and all ranks - remain committed to our national values and principles embedded in the Constitution. The Joint Force - comprised of all races, colors, and creeds - you embody the ideals of our constitution... We will uphold the values of our nation." The statement closed with a promise and a call to action: "Let's get better together."
Additionally, General Milley signed the statement and left a handwritten note. Speaking on behalf of the Joint Force, he reminded troops that, "We all committed our lives to the idea that is America - we will stay true to that oath and the American people."
The Chief of Naval Operations address compared to Milley's handwritten message in terms of sentimentality. Recognizing the issues at hand, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday reminded members of the Navy and citizens to consider the dignity and respect guaranteed to us in our American citizenship.
"It's been a very sad time for our country - a confusing time. And most of us are trying to figure it out and trying to ask ourselves, 'What can we do?' First right now, I think we need to listen. We have black Americans in our Navy and in our communities that are in deep pain right now.
In the Navy we talk a lot about treating people with dignity and respect – in fact, we demand it.
But over the past week, after we've watched what is going on, we can't be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country. And I can't be under any illusions that we don't have it in our Navy. Racism [can] happen with people who are friendly, generous, and kind. So, when that happens… think about dignity and respect. Think about having a private conversation – an honest conversation in educating them. If we don't do that, racism, injustice, indignity, and disrespect – it's going to grow and it's going to continue."