Navy’s New Effort to Crack Down on Racism, Sexism Won’t ‘Fizzle Out,’ Admiral Says

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Chief petty officers assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Essex stand in ranks.
FILE PHOTO -- Chief petty officers assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Essex stand in ranks during the hull swap ceremony between Essex and USS Bonhomme Richard. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marcus L. Stanley)

A new team assembled to examine Navy policies at nearly every stage of a sailor's career is likely to result in significant changes as service leaders look to end unfair policies that put anyone at a disadvantage because of their race or gender.

Task Force One Navy was established last week at the direction of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday. The move followed Gilday's order to create a policy banning the Confederate flag from public workspaces, ships, aircraft and subs as the nation grapples with conversations about racism following the deaths of several Black Americans at the hands of police officers.

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The Navy's task force will examine policies in nine areas: recruiting; pre-accession mentoring and scholarship opportunities; talent management; training and education; detailing; fitness reports and evaluations; promotions; military justice; and health care.

The effort is being led by Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, commander of Carrier Strike Group One. Other key leadership positions will be filled by Capt. T.J. Dixon, serving as the task force chief of staff, Force Master Chief Huben Phillips as the senior enlisted adviser, and Jane Roberts serving as the civilian adviser.

The task force -- which includes Black, Hispanic, white, and male and female members -- will report their findings to Gilday through Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell.

"These are not figureheads -- that's not why they're there," Nowell told reporters Friday. "We think that diversity that we build into the task force is important. So it's not just about race, ethnicity, gender -- it's also about 'Where are you from? What was your education? What lens do you look through?'"

Twenty other members from across some of the Navy's biggest commands will support the task force.

Nowell said in talking to Black shipmates, it became obvious that the Navy does have a cultural problem with bias.

"As we look at the senior ranks," he said, "we know -- and certainly the perception and I think the reality is -- that there is systemic racism. Not on purpose, but I think sometimes unwittingly, which is why the idea is, 'What are the barriers that we can remove?'"

That will involve actions ranging from looking at programs for underserved communities when it comes to recruitment and scholarship programs, to possibly getting rid of photo requirements for promotions, Nowell added. The task force will also get feedback from those in private corporations and in academia, he said.

The task force's first list of written recommendations will be due to Nowell by the end of July. It also must provide a progress review to Gilday by Sept. 17 and a final report by Dec. 10.

Nowell acknowledged that the Navy has assembled groups in the past to examine its policies, only to have the findings not lead to significant change. He said he's convinced sailors won't see the results of this task force "fizzle out."

"I think this is a different level of dialogue, both at senior levels and also all the way down to the deckplates," Nowell said. "That's what makes me hopeful. The bottom line is senior leadership is committed."

Fleet Master Chief Wes Koshoffer, with Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education, said the Navy has the momentum to make positive changes for the long haul. And the changes, he added, are necessary.

When some sailors share their day-to-day experiences in society and the Navy, it can be tough to hear, Koshoffer said.

"I consider myself to be a leader that cares," he said. "I've tried to be fair and objective throughout my career and to be inclusive at every level. So to arrive here in sort of a senior leader position within the Navy, and then to hear sailors discuss what it's really like for them ... how they're treated or how they approach life ... is a real wake-up call for me, quite honestly.

"You can never rest your oars on this subject," Koshoffer said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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