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Statements from military leaders on race issues, civil unrest

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As cities all around the nation continue to see protests and even riots following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man that was killed while in police custody on May 25, leaders from America’s military service branches have issued statements calling for unity within the armed forces, and addressing pressing concerns about race in America.

In this piece, we will publish each of these statements in there entirety whenever possible, and will include links to where they were originally published.

Message from the Commandant General David H. Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy E. Black

military leaders race issues
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Serine Farahi)

Marines and Sailors, last summer, in my planning guidance, I stated there is no place in our Corps for racists – whether their intolerance and prejudice be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional. As a continuation of that declaration, in April, I addressed the removal of the Confederate battle flag from our bases, and explained my views behind that decision. I wrote, ‘Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion, must be addressed head-on.’

Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division – rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself. The trust Marines place in one another on a daily basis demands this. Only as a unified force, free from discrimination, racial inequality, and prejudice can we fully demonstrate our core values, and serve as the elite warfighting organization America requires and expects us to be.

To this end, Sergeant Major Black and I encourage commanders and leaders at all levels to have a conversation with their Marines and Sailors, and ask that in doing so, all actively listen. By listening, we learn, by learning, we change. The path to a more just and equal Marine Corps begins with these conversations.

You can find this statement posted here.

Statement from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday to the fleet

It’s been a very sad time for our country – a confusing time. And most of us are trying to figure it out and trying to ask ourselves, “What can we do?” “How can we contribute in a positive way to change things so that these things never happen again?”

I’ve been in the Navy for a long time and I’ve had a lot of experiences. Something I have never experienced and something I will never experience is that I will never walk in the shoes of a black American or any other minority. I will never know what it feels like when you watch that video of Mr. Floyd’s murder. And I can’t imagine the pain and the disappointment and the anger that many of you felt when you saw that. Because it’s not the first time, it’s happened time and time again in our country.

I don’t have all the answers, and as CNO I can’t write an order and change a policy that’s going to fix things. So, I thought I’d make a couple of points.

First right now, I think we need to listen. We have black Americans in our Navy and in our communities that are in deep pain right now. They are hurting. I’ve received emails, and I know it’s not a good situation. I know that for many of them, they may not have somebody to talk to. I ask you to consider reaching out, have a cup of coffee, have lunch, and just listen.

The second thing I would ask you to consider in the Navy we talk a lot about treating people with dignity and respect – in fact, we demand it. It’s one of the things that makes us a great Navy and one of the things that makes me so proud of all of you every single day. But over the past week, after we’ve watched what is going on, we can’t be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country. And I can’t be under any illusions that we don’t have it in our Navy.

Racism happens a lot and it happens with people that we don’t normally expect. It happens with people who are friendly, generous, and kind as well. It could be a friend, a coworker, it could be a family member or a close acquaintance. And they say something, and it’s not right. And you know it’s not right. But because they’re a friend, and you know them well, and they’re a good person. You say to yourself “they didn’t mean that…they didn’t mean for it to come out that way.” But it did. And they had that thought. And they verbalized it. There was a consequence and somebody was probably hurt by it.

So, when that happens, I want you to think about is approaching that person. Think about dignity and respect. Think about having a private conversation – an honest conversation in educating them. Make them more self-aware of what they did and what they said. If we don’t do that, racism, injustice, indignity, and disrespect – it’s going to grow and it’s going to continue. And we’ll have more weeks like we’ve had this week. And we’ll be disappointed. We’ll be more disappointed in ourselves because we let it happen. We let it happen.

I’m really proud of the Navy. I’m such an optimist about not only where we’ve been but where we are going. Let’s make it the best Navy possible. Let’s make it the best Navy for everybody. Thanks. Thanks for listening. Have a good night.

You can find this statement posted here.

Message from the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff General James McConville, and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston

military leaders race issues
(U.S. Army)

Dear Soldiers, Civilians, Family members and Soldiers for Life:

Over the past week, the country has suffered an explosion of frustration over the racial divisions that still plague us as Americans. And because your Army is a reflection of American society, those divisions live in the Army as well. We feel the frustration and anger. We felt it this week while traveling through the nation’s capital with the DC National Guard. We feel it, even though we can never fully understand the frustration and life experiences of people of color, in or out of uniform. But we do understand the importance of taking care of people, and of treating every person with dignity and respect.

Our ability to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, is founded upon a sacred trust with the American people. Racial division erodes that trust. Though we all aspire to live by the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, the Army has sometimes fallen short. Because just as we reflect the best of America, we reflect its imperfections as well. We need to work harder to earn the trust of mothers and fathers who hesitate to hand their sons and daughters into our care. How we respond to the anger that has ignited will chart the course of that trust.

Every Soldier and Department of the Army Civilian swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. That includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We will continue to support and defend those rights, and we will continue to protect Americans, whether from enemies of the United States overseas, from COVID-19 at home, or from violence in our communities that threatens to drown out the voices begging us to listen. To Army leaders of all ranks, listen to your people, but don’t wait for them to come to you. Go to them. Ask the uncomfortable questions. Lead with compassion and humility, and create an environment in which people feel comfortable expressing grievances. Let us be the first to set the example. We are listening. And we will continue to put people first as long as we are leading the Army. Because people are our greatest strength.

God bless all of the people of our United States Army: our Soldiers, Families, Civilians, and Soldier for Life retirees and veterans. And God bless the United States of America.

Michael A. Grinston

Sergeant Major of the Army

James C. McConville

General, United States Army

Ryan D. McCarthy

Secretary of the Army

You can find this message posted here.

Messages from the Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright

Letter from General Goldfein


Please ensure wide distribution of this message.

The death of George Floyd is a national tragedy. Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020. We all wish it were not possible for racism to occur in America, a country founded on the sacred ideal that “all men (and women) are created equal” and have the “unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But it does, and we are at a moment where we must confront what is.

To the Airmen who are mourning, angry, or weary of the battle against racial prejudice, discrimination, bias, and systemic discrimination, Chief Wright and I recognize your pain. As the Air Force’s military leadership, we reflect on and acknowledge that what happens on America’s streets is also resident in our Air Force. Sometimes its explicit, sometimes it’s subtle, but we are not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination, and unconscious bias. We see this in the apparent inequity in our application of military justice. We will not shy away from this; as leaders and as Airmen, we will own our part and confront it head on.

Chief Wright and I have had vastly different experiences growing up and during our time in the Air Force. His powerful op-ed, Who Am I, is a must read. Please disseminate it across your wing.

So what to do? Discussing our different life experiences and viewpoints can be tough, uncomfortable, and therefore often avoided. But we have been presented a crisis. We can no longer walk by this problem.

We must look inward at our Air Force, and at every echelon of command, so we emerge stronger as a profession of arms. It was our very own General Benjamin O. Davis, Tuskegee Airman, who said, “The privileges of being an American belong to those brave enough to fight for them.”

It is time for every one of us to strive for understanding and a culture of inclusiveness and belonging across our Air Force.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know there is no room for bigotry, hatred or small mindedness in our force. Period. Every member of our team needs to know we have their back.

So let’s start the conversation acknowledging we have many valued Airmen who live and work for One Nation under God, indivisible … but for them … without liberty and justice for all.

Chief Wright and I will attack this together in the weeks and months ahead. Together with Secretary Barrett, we have directed the Air Force Inspector General to do an independent review of our legal system, racial injustice, and opportunities for advancement. On Wednesday evening at 1700 Eastern Time, we will host a Facebook town hall on this issue for 2 hours. We look forward to engaging with you’. You can link in via

Let’s get better together.

You can find this posted here.

Statement from Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright

Who am I?

I am a Black man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

I am George Floyd…I am Philando Castile, I am Michael Brown, I am Alton Sterling, I am Tamir Rice.

Just like most of the Black Airmen and so many others in our ranks…I am outraged at watching another Black man die on television before our very eyes. What happens all too often in this country to Black men who are subjected to police brutality that ends in death…could happen to me. As shocking as that may sound to some of you…I hope you realize that racism/discrimination/exclusion does not care much about position, titles or stature….so yes, it could happen to you, or one of your friends, or your Airmen, or your NCOIC, your Flight Chief, your Squadron Commander or even your Wing Commander. This, my friends, is my greatest fear, not that I will be killed by a white police officer (believe me my heart starts racing like most other Black men in America when I see those blue lights behind me)…but that I will wake up to a report that one of our Black Airmen has died at the hands of a white police officer.

As I struggle with the Air Force’s own demons that include the racial disparities in military justice and discipline among our youngest Black male Airmen and the clear lack of diversity in our senior officer ranks…I can only look in the mirror for the solution. I, the CMSAF must do better in ensuring every Airmen in our ranks has a fair chance at becoming the best version of themselves. While this is a complicated issue…I, along with every other leader across the force, am responsible for making sure it becomes a reality.

What have I been doing?

Not enough…I have done my share of community service work, been in involved in mentor programs, voted in local, state and national elections, but I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever I have done in the past is just not enough. So, I spent the last week, “plotting, planning, strategizing, organizing and mobilizing” just as Killer Mike, the popular Atlanta rapper and activist encouraged us to do. Twenty-five of my closest friends (White, Black, Asian, enlisted, officer and civilian) and I have an ongoing dialogue where we began by acknowledging our right to be angry about what is happening.

We eventually moved beyond the rage and began to think about what’s next? What could or should we be doing as a group and as individuals to stop this from happening in our communities across these United States? We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some of the most brilliant minds, many, who have first hand experience with this topic and we will continue working towards a solution. While we can’t change the world, we can change the communities we live in and more importantly, those where our Airmen strive to be seen, heard, and treated as human beings. I have also not done enough as your most senior enlisted leader…while we have made progress in many of the areas that impact our Airmen and families; I believe that we have not made much progress in this area of racial injustice and diversity among our ranks. This is why I’m working with General Goldfein, first and foremost to have a full and thorough independent review of our military justice system. We will look to uncover where the problem lies and how we can fix it. We are also working to improve the diversity of our force, especially within the senior ranks. I hope this message triggers responses and ideas from each of you on things we can do better.

What should you be doing?

Like me, acknowledge your right to be upset about what’s happening to our nation. But you must then find a way to move beyond the rage and do what you think is right for the country, for your community, for your sons, daughters, friends and colleagues…for every Black man in this country who could end up like George Floyd. Part of my group’s solution involves helping to bridge the communication and understanding gap between law enforcement and young Black men. You decide what works best for you, where you can have the most meaningful impact and most importantly, what you can stay committed to…we didn’t get here overnight so don’t expect things to change tomorrow…we are in this for the long haul. Vote, protest peacefully, reach out to your local and state officials, to your Air Force leadership and become active in your communities…we need all hands on deck. If you don’t do anything else, I encourage everyone to fight, not just for freedom, justice and equality, but to fight for understanding. You might think you know what it’s like to grow up, exist, survive and even thrive in this country as a Black person…but let me tell you, regardless of how many Black friends you have, or how Black your neighborhood was, or if your spouse or in-laws are Black…you don’t know.

You don’t know the anxiety, the despair, the heartache, the fear, the rage and the disappointment that comes with living in this country, OUR country every single day. So, take the time to talk to someone – your brand new Airmen, your NCOIC or your Flight Commander – about their experiences so that you have a better understanding of who they are, where they come from and what drives them. Frankly, you owe this to every Airmen, but I’m asking you specifically to pay attention to the Black Airmen in your ranks during this trying time. Don’t misunderstand me, they don’t need, nor do they want any special treatment…but they deserve to be treated fairly and equally, both by our United States Air Force and these United States of America…this begins with you, and I am asking, no fighting, for your understanding.

Like you, I don’t have all of the answers, but I am committed to seeing a better future for this nation. A future where Black men must no longer suffer needlessly at the hands of White police officers, and where Black Airmen have the same chance to succeed as their White counterparts. Trust me, I understand this is a difficult topic to talk about…

Difficult…not impossible…

Difficult…but necessary.

Who am I…

I am Kaleth. I am a Black Man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and I am committed to making this better.

You can find this statement posted here.

We will continue to update this post as new statements are released.

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Alex Hollings

Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran.