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U.S. Army leaders on Thursday announced an effort to reduce racial bias and foster inclusion in the ranks but will not ban the display of the Confederate flag without Pentagon approval.
Sweeping civil unrest across the country in protest of racial injustice has prompted branches of the U.S. military to take steps to root out discrimination and eliminate symbols of racism.
The service has made recommendations on the issue to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and is awaiting his decision, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told defense reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
“The secretary of defense wants to make a uniform decision for the policy for the [Defense] Department,” McCarthy said.
The Army on Thursday unveiled Project Inclusion, an effort that will focus on taking meaningful steps to eliminate unconscious bias that exists at the institutional level.
In one such change, the service will do away with official photos as a requirement in the promotion board process for officers beginning in August. The Army will also evaluate a similar move for warrant officers and sergeants.
Following weeks of demonstrations to protest racial injustice and police brutality, Army leaders decided to take “a hard look at ourselves and make sure we are doing all that we can to have a holistic effort to listen to our soldiers, our civilians and our families to enact initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” McCarthy said.
But looming over the Pentagon are decisions on whether to ban the Confederate flag and to rename installations such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia, that bear the names of members of the Confederacy.
McCarthy said in early June that he was open to consider renaming these installations, but President Donald Trump tweeted that his administration would not consider “renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
“The commander in chief put out specific guidance related to bases,” McCarthy said. “In the Department of Defense, Secretary Esper wants us to look at all of these challenges that are potentially in front of us and have deliberate conversations so we can make the best recommendations possible.”
Army Regulation 600-20 allows commanders to make decisions on symbols that “are not conducive to good order and discipline” and remove them if they see fit, according to Army officials.
But service leaders stopped short of taking a position on whether the Confederate flag should be banned across the Army.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said that he and other senior leaders have passed on their best military advice to the military's civilian leadership and are working toward a long-term solution to these issues.
“We certainly have some ideas on the best way to do this, whether it's the symbology of certain things or it's taking a look at what certain posts should be. And there is certainly room to take a look at it,” McConville said. “I think we need to take a look at all those things. … I think what we need is a long-term, enduring solution to bring all people together that are concerned about those issues.”
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