Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley made a forceful case Thursday for changing the names of bases honoring Confederate generals, citing the particular burden African American troops bear when they serve at these installations.
Milley said he had in mind "those young soldiers who go onto a base, a Fort Hood [Texas] or a Fort Bragg [North Carolina] or a fort wherever, named after a Confederate general. They can be reminded that that general fought for an institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors."
"I had a Staff Sergeant when I was a young officer [at Fort Bragg]," Milley said. "He said he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who enslaved one of his ancestors."
The base was named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Rep. Anthony Brown, a retired Army colonel and the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned Milley on the 10 Army bases named for Confederate leaders.
"Does it reflect the values that we instill in our soldiers? Are these Confederate officers held up as role models in today's military?" he said. "Does it help or hurt the morale and unit cohesion of service members, particularly the black and brown service members who live and serve on these installations today?"
Political decisions were made years ago to name the bases for Confederates, "and they're going to be political decisions today" on whether the names should be changed, Milley said.
However, "we've got to take a hard look" at the base names that have become part of the current national debate on racial justice and the legacy of the Civil War, Milley said.
"The military equity here is divisiveness and, as you mention, cohesion," he said.
Those who fought for the Confederacy committed "an act of rebellion and an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars & Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution," Milley said. "Now some have a different view of that -- some think it's heritage" that led the South into rebellion, "and some think it's hate."
If the decision is made to change the names, "the way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it," Milley said. "So I've recommended a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names -- all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion," he said.
The issue of the base names has been part of the debate in Congress on the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act. The House and Senate versions of the NDAA both include amendments to remove the names of Confederate leaders from bases.
President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA if the amendments are included in the final version of the bill.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.