Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday plans to stand up a Navy task force that will look for ways to remove racial barriers and improve inclusion in the sea service while assessing how issues like military justice, assignments, recruiting and advancement are handled.
Gilday announced the plan near the end of a video released Thursday that included Black sailors speaking candidly about their experiences inside and outside the Navy.
“As a Navy, we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind,” Gilday said in the video. “We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force.”
Further details regarding the task force are expected to be released this week.
The CNO’s task force announcement comes after weeks of unprecedented gestures and candor throughout the U.S. Defense Department to address issues of racial discrimination that have echoed across the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd.
Several Pentagon committees are at work shaping similar policy change recommendations at the direction of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, with some expected to recommend name changes for military bases and ships named in honor of Confederate figures or racist lawmakers.
Gilday also mandated earlier this month that Confederate flags will no longer be hung in public spaces and work areas.
Several weeks ago, as protesters took to the streets across America, Gilday joined other military brass in condemning racism and calling on shipmates to be there for their Black brethren.
“Now, I am strongly encouraging every Navy leader — uniform and civilian, active and reserve — to start a dialogue at each of your commands,” he said in Thursday’s video. “As a Navy we must seize this opportunity to engage in conversations about race relations and inclusion within our force. Now is the time to have open and honest conversations across our Navy.”
The majority of Thursday’s video featured mostly Black sailors talking about what it is like for them in the Navy — and America in general.
Those featured sailors’ full names were not published in the video.
Back in the 1950s, the Mississippi Democrat was a signer of the so-called “Southern Manifesto,” which opposed civil rights efforts. Three decades later, he was the only Southern Democrat to oppose a national holiday in remembrance of the Rev. Martin Luther King.
“I’m 44-years-old,” said CMDCM Gray, a senior enlisted leader. “The first time I experienced racism was when I was 10 years old. To be honest, I still experience it to this day.”
Another sailor, listed as AZ3 Wright, said that “being an African American in America is not fun, it’s looking over your shoulder every day.”
Lt. McMillan said in the video that it was a relief to have the opportunity to express feelings “that have been bottled up for years.”
“We’re just asking you to empathize with what’s currently going on,” Lt. McMillan said.
“You saw George Floyd getting killed,” said LNC Ponder. “I saw my husband.”