Navy's First Black, Female Four-Star Admiral Joins Commission on Renaming Bases

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Michelle Howard talks with sailors.
Then Vice Chief of Naval Operations Michelle Howard talks with sailors during her visit to Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) New Orleans, April 17, 2016. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Edward Guttierrez III)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has selected a history-making retired admiral and a former commandant of the Marine Corps, among others, to join a commission that will recommend a way forward on renaming bases named for Confederate officers and other military landmarks honoring the Confederacy.

Austin's four nominees to the commission, announced by the Pentagon on Friday, include retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the former vice chief of naval operations and the highest-ranking woman and African American in the Navy's history. She is joined by retired Gen. Robert Neller, former Marine Corps commandant; Dr. Kori Schake, a widely respected military scholar and director of Foreign & Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; and retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, the professor emeritus of history at the American Enterprise Institute.

Howard, who was previously named to President Joe Biden's defense transition team, served in the Navy from 1982 to 2017 and was commander of United States Naval Forces Europe before becoming VCNO in 2014. Neller, who served as head of Marine Corps Forces Command before becoming commandant in 2015, wrote a lengthy open letter "to America" urging racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's death last June.

"I am sure that today this is not enough," he wrote. "The time for being silent has passed, at least for me."

The commission was created by Congress in a provision within the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act following heated debate over 10 Army bases still bearing the names of Confederate officers. Former President Donald Trump vehemently opposed the bases' renaming and even vetoed the NDAA, in part over that provision.

Also Friday, the House and Senate Armed Services committees also announced their four picks to the commission:

  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., selected retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, 53rd Army Chief of Engineers.
  • Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., selected Jerry Buchanan, an Oklahoma native, business owner and former Army drill sergeant.
  • House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith, D-Wash., selected Lonnie Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian and first Black American to hold that position.
  • House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., selected Rep. Austin Scott, a Georgia Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Four members of the lengthily named Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America were appointed in January under acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller.

They included Trump administration officials and political appointees Sean McLean, at the time a White House associate director from California; Joshua Whitehouse, a former Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives who served at the time as a White House liaison to the Defense Department; Ann Johnston, then the acting assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, from North Carolina; and Earl Matthews, former principal deputy general counsel for the Army and a colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at the time.

Austin's new action, however, replaces these members with his new picks. Earlier this month, the Defense secretary emptied out every defense advisory board, purging hundreds of members, many of them appointed shortly before Trump left office.

"Each of these individuals possesses unique and relevant experience, in and out of government, that I know will inform this important effort. I am enormously grateful for their willingness to serve the nation again, and I thank them in advance for the wise counsel I am confident they will provide," Austin wrote. "I also thank the Congress for establishing this process, and I continue to pledge my personal commitment -- and that of the Department -- to making sure it succeeds. I look forward to seeing the results of the commission's work in the months ahead."

The commission must deliver a written report to Congress by Oct. 11 with its plan to rename bases, platforms and streets honoring the Confederacy. The law mandates that within three years the renaming will be executed and all "names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America" also be stricken. The commission will have a $2 million budget, taken from the Army's fiscal 2021 Operations and Maintenance budget, to come up with its plan.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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