For the first black Pentagon chief, the challenge of racism is personal – NBC4 Washington

The newly identified Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin must confront not only the world of security threats and large-scale military bureaucracy, but also the more familiar challenges of eradicating racism and extremism. Must be.

Austin took office on Friday as the first Black Defense Secretary. Following a deadly riot at the US Capitol, there were current military personnel who retired in a riot promoting a far-right plot.

A retired four-star Army General told Senator this week that the Pentagon’s job is “to protect the United States from its enemies.” But if some of those enemies are within our own rank, we can’t do that. ”

Eliminating the racist army is not his only priority. Austin, confirmed in 93-2 votes, revealed that accelerating the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine would draw his early attention.

But the issue of racism is personal. At a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, he explained why.

1995, then-Lieutenant. Colonel Austin, who belongs to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, arrested three white soldiers, known as self-proclaimed skinheads, for the murder of a black couple walking down the street. Investigators concluded that the two were targeted for their race.

The killings have triggered internal investigations, and it is said that 22 soldiers were found to be linked to skinheads and other similar groups, or to have extremist views. They included 17 people who were considered white supremacists or separatists.

“We woke up one day and discovered that there was an extremist element in our class,” Austin told the Senate Military Commission. “And they did the bad things we certainly held them accountable, but we found that there were signs of that activity all the time. What to look for? I just didn’t know what to pay attention to. “

Austin was not the first secretary to tackle this issue. Racism has long been the undercurrent of the military. Leaders claim that only the minority has an extremist view, but there are persistent cases of racial hatred, and more subtly, implicit prejudice against what is primarily a white system. Has a history of.

A recent Air Force Inspector General’s general report found that black Air Force personnel were much more likely to be investigated, arrested, faced with disciplinary action, and dismissed for illegal activity.

Based on 2018 data, about two-thirds of the military’s enlisted corps are white and about 17% are black, but the minority percentage declines as the rank goes up. According to Census Bureau statistics, the total population of the United States is about three-quarters white and 13% black.

Over the past year, Pentagon leaders have struggled to make a difference, hampered by opposition from then-President Donald Trump. Last year, it took the ministry several months to effectively ban the Confederate flag, leaving Pentagon officials with the issue of renaming military bases in honor of Confederate leaders. Trump refused to rename the base and defended the flag.

Senator asked Austin questions about extremism and plans to deal with it. The hearing was held two weeks after lawmakers fled the deadly riots in the Capitol, many of which supported the views of separatists or extremists.

“It’s clear that we’re in crisis,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who said leaders must eradicate extremism and reaffirm their core military values. It was.

Senator Tim Kain of Diva put pressure on Austin about what he would do. “Discord is probably the most destructive force in our ability to protect ourselves. How can we protect our country if we are divided into each other?”

Austin, who broke racial barriers throughout his 40 years in the Army, said military leaders must set the right example to discourage and eliminate militant behavior. They must know their military and look for signs of extremism and other problems, he said.

However, Austin, the first black man to head the U.S. Central Command and the first deputy chief of staff to the Army, may have to come from military service and subordinate commanders for many of the solutions. I know. They must make sure that their army is trained and aware of the prohibitions.

“Most of us were embarrassed that we didn’t know what to look for, and we didn’t really realize that it would be of great benefit to be more involved with people on this type of issue. “He recalled the problem of the 82nd Airborne Division. .. “I don’t think I can take my hand off the steering wheel here.”

But he also warned that there wouldn’t be an easy solution, “I don’t think this can be fixed and left with a band-aid. You need to continue training on a regular basis. I think there is. “

Austin was confirmed after clearing a legal hurdle that prohibited anyone from serving as Secretary of Defense until he left the army for seven years. Austin retired within five years, but the House and Senate immediately approved the necessary exemptions, which President Joe Biden signed on Friday.

Shortly thereafter, Austin stepped into the Pentagon, and his afternoon was already full of telephone calls and briefings, including a meeting with Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He held a broader video conference on COVID-19 with top defense and military leaders, and his first call to international leaders was with NATO Secretary General Jensstrutenberg.

Austin, 67, graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1975. He helped lead the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and eight years later became the commander-in-chief of the United States overseeing the complete withdrawal of US troops. After serving as Deputy Secretary of the Army, Austin led Central Command, where he oversaw the reinsertion of US troops into Iraq to defeat the radicals of the Islamic State.

He describes himself as the son of a postal worker and housewife in Thomasville, Georgia. He speaks his heart to Congress and Biden.

For the first black Pentagon chief, the challenge of racism is personal – NBC4 Washington

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