Despite a lack of White House support, the U.S. Army's chief of staff said Tuesday that the service has not abandoned the idea of renaming several bases named after Confederate leaders.
"For some soldiers that I talk to, it's a very emotional issue; for other soldiers, they don't even realize the names of the people on the bases they are at, so I think we have to take a look at it," Gen. James McConville said during a discussion on the state of the Army, sponsored by Defense One.
Army leaders began stressing the need for more inclusion in the ranks shortly after demonstrations and riots broke out across the country in May in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody.
"At the end of the day, what we want to do -- at least as the leadership in the Army -- is to identify those things that may divide us, and take a look at and come up with solutions that can bring us together and bring everyone together and really make us more of a cohesive team," McConville said.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in early June that he would consider discussion on changing the names of 10 posts named in honor of Confederate leaders, including Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. But the idea lost momentum when President Donald Trump tweeted that he would not support changing the names of bases that are part of American heritage.
However, it's clear that debate on the issue is not over as the November presidential election draws closer.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges called on the service to move "immediately" forward with the base name changes.
"The Army has got to change these ... bases named after Confederate generals," said Hodges, who is now the Pershing chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis. "I am embarrassed I was so late in my career before I even realized, and I started thinking what this is about. It's indefensible. There is no point in trying to defend it."
The Army is also considering adding to a Pentagon policy that bans the display of Confederate flags on bases, possibly adding more flags to the list that soldiers are authorized to display.
In mid-July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a policy specifying flags that are cleared to be displayed publicly on military installations. The Confederate flag is not on the list of those cleared to fly.
The list includes flags for U.S. states, territories and Washington, D.C., as well as the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag.
"What we want to do is take a look at where the policy could be adjusted," McConville said, adding that soldiers continue to ask him about the issue. "We have heard from some soldiers and from some families [voicing] the concern about what flags fall into the policy."
McConville did not name any flags the Army is considering adding to the list, but said leaders will continue to look at the policy and "question, 'Hey, we didn't have this flag. Was that the intent for what we are trying to do?' And I think that discussion is ongoing."
"We want to make sure that everyone feels included and everyone belongs," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.