Two major initiatives of the new defense secretary are advancing as the Pentagon head steers the department in his effort to tackle major personnel problems — extremism in the ranks and sexual harassment.
Speaking with reporters Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s memo to the services calling for 60-day stand down to address extremism was not designed to be a panacea.
“This is an opportunity for leadership to listen to the men and women they lead,” Kirby told reporters. “This is just a step in what the secretary believes will be very deliberate process to try and tackle this problem. He understands a one-day stand down does not solve anything. It might bring to light concerns and experience that he might not be aware of.”
Austin issued his memo in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, in which several veterans and some service members took part.
Kirby, a retired Navy rear admiral, described Austin’s stand down as “getting down to the deck plates” of the problem. That effort, he said, is not meant to merely be a one-way firehose of information directed at troops. Austin, he said, wants to “find out what exists out there in the force. Listening to our men and women as they share their own views and perspectives will no doubt inform whatever procedures, policies or actions the secretary puts in place.”
The memo, released by the department on Feb. 5, directs commanders to select a day in the next 60 days to conduct the stand down.
While the work can be tailored to the unit, Austin expects leaders to, “include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors,” according to the memo.
Austin previously met with the service chiefs and has received input for combatting extremism from them.
The services are also considering ways to inform troops leaving on how such extremist groups attempt to recruit veterans.
Last month, President Joe Biden ordered the Pentagon to create a 90-day commission to “pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military.”
On the heels of that announcement, Austin ordered senior leaders to submit “a summary of the sexual assault, harassment and accountability measures” that had been taken in the past year “that show promise, as well as a frank, data-driven assessment of those which do not,” Military Times previously reported.
Austin wanted that summary to also include information on how leadership was conducting oversight of programs to ensure they’re being, “executed on the ground with fidelity.”
And the assessments were also to include data over the past decade and information on victim advocacy efforts and support.
That first deadline hit on Friday.
Kirby said the service chiefs had submitted the information and a readout was due to Austin this week.
Part of the submission includes recommendations from the chiefs on who will serve on the commission.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.