Defense

DOD orders leaders to address extremism

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks with the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando) 

DOD Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III speaks to his British counterpart from the Pentagon on Jan. 23. (DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The Defense Department has toughened its stance on extremism in the military, requiring all senior leadership, commanders, and supervisors to hold day-long discussions on extremism in the military in the next 60 days.

"Because we each took an oath to obey the law, support and defend the Constitution, and to do our jobs to the best of our ability, we expect public servants to be guided in their actions by a strong moral compass," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a Feb. 5 memo.

"We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate and harassment."

Leaders have some discretion on how to structure the stand down discussions, according to the memo, but were instructed to address the oath of office, impermissible behaviors, and how to report "suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors." The sessions should also allow personnel to discuss concerns and possible solutions, the document states.

Military department secretaries can also grant extensions for holding the discussions due to a unit's operational needs, including National Guard and Reserve Forces.

Austin issued the memo just weeks after vowing to "stamp out sexual assault" and "rid our ranks of racists and extremists" in his nomination hearing Jan. 19. In his testimony, Austin recalled discovering extremism among the ranks of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, saying the warning signs were there but leadership didn't know what to look for.

"They did bad things that we … certainly held them accountable for. But we discovered that the signs for that activity were there all along," Austin said. "We just didn't know what to look for or what to pay attention to. But we learned from that. And I think this is one of those things that's important to our military to make sure that we keep a handle on."

The memo also comes after the Navy released dozens of recommendations to address systemic racism and sexism following a six-month review. The Air Force released a similar report in December, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Air Force's chief of staff, who said extremism kept service members from being their best.

"I want to create an environment where all of our airmen can reach their full potential and extremism is not one of those that allows that to happen whether it be sexual assault, discrimination," Brown said Jan. 25.

"There [are] so many factors that can actually detract from our airmen, our service members reaching their full potential. And extremism is one of those."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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