BCN Staff – Feb. 3, 2021 — New Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, the first black man to lead the nation’s military at the Pentagon, has ordered a DOD-wide stand down to discuss the problem of extremism in the ranks, DOD Press Secretary John F. Kirby said Tuesday.
Austin and Army Gen. Mark A, Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with service civilian leaders and service chiefs to discuss the problem of extremism. Kirby noted that some of the extremists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were active-duty service members and others were military veterans.
After being selected by President Joe Biden to lead the nation’s armed forces, Austin was sworn in on Jan. 22 as the 28th secretary of defense. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Austin served 41 years in uniform, retiring as a four-star Army general after three years as commander of U.S. Central Command.
The stand down order from Austin will occur over the next 60 days, Kirby said. This is so “each service, each command and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force,” he said.
Kirby was quick to say that “the vast majority of men and women who serve in uniform and the military are doing so with honor, integrity and character, and do not espouse the sorts of beliefs that lead to the kind of conduct that can be so detrimental to good order and discipline and in fact is criminal.”
Still, Austin said in the meeting with military leaders that while the numbers may be small, they are not as small as anyone would like. “No matter what it is, it is … not an insignificant problem and has to be addressed,” Kirby said during a press gaggle in the Pentagon.
There is much that needs to be hammered out including the details of the training that will go along with the stand down and what the secretary and all in the military want to accomplish. The stand down is similar to safety stand downs that units may have, Kirby said.
Austin called extremism in the ranks a leadership issue, and “it’s got to be a leadership issue down to the lowest levels, small unit leadership all the way up to him,” Kirby said. “So if you consider it a leadership issue, then maybe there will be some potential solutions there to allow us greater visibility.”
This is a thorny problem, one that has raised its head in the past. There is a DOD Instruction aimed at this very problem — DODI 1325.06 “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces.”
According to DOD officials, all U.S. armed force branches expressly prohibit any soldiers or other military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes.
Kirby said there are still questions that need to be answered, like what constitutes extremist activity? What is permissible in looking for extremists in the ranks? In his first week of meetings, Austin made it clear that he is still mulling over how he wants to organize the effort to attack the problem from an institutional perspective, the press secretary said.
The secretary also said he may establish a task force to get after the problem or perhaps another way. “He hasn’t ruled anything in or out,” Kirby said.
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