Navy leaders list climate change, extremism, diversity as priorities

Updated: May 7

Top Navy leaders told Congress this week that while China, Russia, readiness and lethal warfighting capacity are priorities, the Navy is also paying more attention social issues that have taken on new weight under the Biden administration.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger told members of the House Appropriations Committee in their written testimony that the Navy is also taking substantial steps to fight climate change, ensure a diverse and inclusive Navy, and root out extremism from the ranks.

Berger also accused the Marine Corps he leads of having a “structural racism” problem, a term most people define as any system that reinforces racial inequality. He said it is “clear to me that a degree of structural racism and sexism exists within our current system.”

“I appreciate the attention of these leaders to the Navy’s real priorities, such as the need to project force across the globe to deter China and Russia,” said AUSN Executive Director Jason Beardsley. “But we continue to watch these new priorities and how much time, attention and resources they will take.”

“It was also disheartening to see that none of these leaders mentioned morale as a priority in the years ahead,” Beardsley added. “Morale is a critical factor in recruiting and retention, and should be at the top of any military leader’s list of priorities.”

The three Navy leaders cited “extremism” as a problem even after the Defense Department admitted it’s not clear what the term means. DOD announced in April that it would try to define the word “extremism” in an effort to eradicate it from the military – the term was added to a military instruction nine years ago, but the department acknowledged that leaders need more information about “what we’re talking about here.”

Beardsley wrote in an op-ed this week that DOD should eliminate the term entirely because defining it will only further politicize the Pentagon, and the military can already expel or discipline service members for a wide range of reasons related to conduct.

Below are excerpts from the prepared testimony of the three Navy leaders from the April 29 hearing.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas W. Harker

  • “The United States Navy and Marine Corps recognize the reality of global climate change, our responsibility to mitigate our contribution to it, and our need to prepare for its short and long term effects. As we grapple with the effects of climate change on maritime operations around the globe, the DON [Department of the Navy] must continue to lead and find ways to go farther, both in substantially reducing our impact on climate change and building a force that is resilient to its potential effects.”

  • “The DON is determined to lead from the front against the threat of climate change.”

  • “We are actively engaged in rooting out extremism throughout our force. In coordination with efforts across the joint force, the DON has conducted ‘Extremism Stand Downs’ at every echelon. This process sparked important conversations and made the position of our leadership and force clear to every Sailor, Marine, and Civilian in the DON, and we will continue to build on these efforts.”

  • “Trust is at the heart of all our warriors do. Extremist ideologies are a strategic threat to that trust and have no place within the Navy and Marine Corps. We will persistently focus on this problem and appreciate this Committee’s partnership and involvement in this critical effort.”

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday

  • “Climate change puts our coast lines at risk with rising seas levels and more severe weather.”

  • “Without a doubt, the vast majority of Sailors in the U.S. Navy serve every day with honor, character, and integrity. However, we cannot be under any illusions that extremist behaviors do not exist in our Navy. As directed by the Secretary of Defense, each command across the fleet conducted a stand down to address extremism within our ranks. Racism, injustice, indignity, and disrespect keeps us from reaching our potential – an inclusive, respectful, professional fighting force that answers the Nation’s call with unparalleled readiness and lethality. The stand down was only a starting point; this will be an ongoing fight. We are committed to eliminating extremist behavior and all of its corrosive effects on our fighting force.”

  • “We are also actively building a workforce that represents the full diversity of America and the strength it brings… Respect and the promise of opportunity are core to our Navy, and we are committed to implementing TF1N [Task Force One Navy] reforms and ridding discrimination, sexism, and other forms of structural biases from our ranks.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger

  • “We have and will continue to actively work to identify recruits and Marines who hold extremist views and we look forward to participating in the Secretary of Defense's new Countering Extremism Working Group to develop additional methods of keeping extremists from within our ranks.”

  • “The diversity of thought and actions each Marine brings will help us find more creative and innovative solutions to these future challenges. We must actively work to retain and grow this diversity of thought through a more diverse group of talented individuals, while at the same time protecting against extremism.”

  • “Since testifying last year, our nation has engaged in a long overdue conversation on race and social justice sparked by several visible incidents of institutional racism, and perhaps more importantly – how to remedy the inequities of the present. As with all other Americans, I – and every other Marine – have acknowledged these challenges and will continue to do our part to overcome them once and for all.”

  • “We must promote and retain the very best Marines; however, it is clear to me that a degree of structural racism and sexism exists within our current system. We must create a system of structural equality that ensures all Marines – of all backgrounds – are able to use their best talents to solve the problems we soon will face.”

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