Conservative Leaders Defend Navy Master Chief over 'Strip Club' Remark

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the media after a speech aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at the Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the media after a speech aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at the Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A Navy command master chief who instructed sailors to "clap like we're in a strip club" ahead of a speech from the vice president and then tendered his resignation in the blowback that followed is getting support from national political and media figures.

Command Master Chief Jonas Carter, senior enlisted sailor aboard the carrier Harry S. Truman, made the remark when Vice President Mike Pence visited the ship April 30. It was heard and reported by members of the media who were present for Pence's visit, and Truman officials quickly issued a statement condemning it as inappropriate.

The Truman's commanding officer, Capt. Nick Dienna, announced Tuesday in a lengthy statement on the carrier's official Facebook page that Carter was stepping down and retiring, bringing his 30-year career to a close.

"Master Chief Carter took every tasking on with a fervent heart, a broad smile and a true sense of purpose," Dienna wrote. "He left no doubt as to what kind of leader he is, or the kind of leader he wanted us all to be."

The news of Carter's resignation drew statements of amazement and disappointment from figures on the national stage.

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"Own it, apologize for it but you should not have to resign," Jeb Bush, 43rd governor of the state of Florida and former presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter. "Dang, we are living in an uptight world. Thank you for your service."

Other prominent voices -- many of them politically conservative -- echoed the sentiment.

"You've got to be kidding. The Navy is forcing a Command Master Chief to resign for...this? C'mon," tweeted Bill Kristol, founder of the recently defunct conservative magazine The Weekly Standard and director of the advocacy group Defending Democracy Together.

Jay Nordlinger, senior editor of another definitive conservative voice, National Review magazine, kept it simple: "Oh, come on," he tweeted.

Other readers also added their thoughts, most of them in defense of Carter, saying he should not have had to lose his career over the eyebrow-raising remark.

A spokeswoman for the Truman, Lt. Cmdr. Laura Stegherr, confirmed to Military.com that Carter had opted of his own accord to resign, rather than being asked to do so.

The decision to accept the resignation, however, may be evidence of renewed pressure on the Navy to further professionalize and to present itself as an organization that is welcoming to all, particularly as the services continue to battle sexual assault in the ranks and struggle to recruit and retain women. Add to that the public nature of the event and its timing, coming in front of the national media and just before the vice president spoke. The apparent result: a career-ending perfect storm.

One retired Navy chief says it's also a sign of generational change: What was commonplace behavior several decades ago no longer flies, and those with careers that span decades may struggle to adapt to the current climate.

"When I first joined the military, there weren't many females; things were a little different," said Lowell Heath, treasurer for the National Chief Petty Officers Association and a former senior chief petty officer who retired in 1992. "However, when I became a maintenance chief, I had 200 people working for me. It was a combination of men and women, sailors, Marines, civilians -- a mixed pot. I tried not to talk like that."

Heath, whose daughter served 26 years in the Navy and whose grandson now serves, said he has observed the changes over time even in his own family. While his daughter used crass and salty language on and off the job -- "you had to do that, for self-preservation," he said -- he has noted his grandson does not.

"This Navy now, I don't know how many sailors even go to strip clubs," he said. "They even frown on drinking."

Heath allowed he might be more reticent than most. But he wasn't outraged at the consequences for Carter, only noting that he had observed many worse comments and actions go unpunished over the course of his career.

"I've seen some things that commanders and commanding officers have done that were totally outrageous," he said. "Unfortunately, when they get caught, they get penalized."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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