Austin, lawmakers name eight to commission for renaming military bases that honor Confederates
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2021
WASHINGTON — The commission to rename military bases honoring Confederate leaders will include three retired generals, a retired admiral, a former drill sergeant, a civilian defense policy expert, a congressman and the secretary of the Smithsonian, Pentagon and congressional leaders announced Friday.
The commission is expected to begin work next month to build a plan to rename 10 Army installations carrying the names of Confederate generals and to remove other names and symbols from Defense Department properties and assets honoring those who served the Confederate States of America, officials said. The group was created by the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law Jan. 1 after the Senate and House voted to override then-President Donald Trump’s veto of the annual policy and spending bill.
Defense Secretary Llloyd Austin on Friday named to the commission retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, retired Marine Gen. Bob Neller, retired Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, and Kori Schake, a civilian defense policy expert.
“Each of these individuals possesses unique and relevant experience, in and out of government, that I know will inform this important effort,” Austin said in a statement. “I am enormously grateful for their willingness to serve the nation again, and I thank them in advance for the wise counsel I am confident they will provide.”
The four will join four members named Friday by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. They are retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick; Lonnie G. Bunch II, the secretary of the Smithsonian; Jerry Buchanan, a Tulsa, Okla., businessman, and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga.
Congress mandated the commission as Army and Pentagon leaders during Trump's administration began looking at stripping bases of Confederate-linked names amid a nationwide racial reckoning after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. But Trump rejected calls to rename the posts, and ultimately vetoed the NDAA, in part, over that objection.
The bases in question, all in former Confederate states, were named during the 1910s and 1940s amid the south’s Jim Crow era. They are Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia, Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas.
Congress charged the commission with working with local communities to establish new names for these installations. The panel is to provide its findings and recommendations to Congress by October 2022 and the Pentagon must implement the changes by Jan. 1, 2024, according to the law.
The Army has the power to unilaterally change the names of its installations, however Austin’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, told Stars and Stripes that the defense secretary intends to allow the commission to lead the effort.
Howard retired from the Navy in 2017 after commanding U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa. She was the first Black female four-star officer in the U.S. military history. She was also the Navy’s first Black woman to command a ship, the USS Rushmore dock landing ship in 1999, and the first to lead a Navy battle group, commanding Expeditionary Strike Group Two in the Indian Ocean in 2009.
Neller retired as the Marine Corps commandant in 2019 after 44 years in the service. Since his retirement, Neller has been outspoken about race issues, penning a public letter in the wake of Floyd’s death that read, in part: “To the racists in America …You are on the wrong side of history. I pity you.”
Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy studies at the right-leaning Washington think tank American Enterprise Institute. She is also a former Pentagon and State Department official, and she has written extensively about defense issues, including civil-military relations.
Seidule retired from the Army in 2020 and led the history department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for about 20 years, according to his biography. In January, he published a book entitled “Robert E. Lee and Me,” which is described as a look at his changing understanding of Lee and the Confederacy, which he had revered growing up as a southerner.
Bostick was chosen by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I. Bostick retired from the Army in 2016 after leading the Army Corps of Engineers. A 1978 graduate of West Point, Bostick also served as the director of Army Human Resources, commanded its Recruiting Command and taught at his alma mater.
Bunch was chosen by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash. A historian, teacher and author, he has led the Smithsonian since 2019, according to his official biography.
Buchanan was selected by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Buchanan is “a private business owner and civic leader” in Tulsa, according to Inhofe’s office. He served in the Army, including as a drill sergeant, and was assigned to Fort Dix, N.J., and Fort Polk.
Scott was selected by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the House Armed Services Committee’s ranking member. Scott has served in Congress since 2010, representing Georgia’s 8th congressional district, which includes Robins Air Force Base in the state’s center and Moody Air Force Base near its southern border.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., applauded the selections announced Friday. Brown, an Army veteran and member of House Armed Services Committee who championed efforts to strip bases of Confederate names, said those chosen had the proper backgrounds to make sound choices in renaming the posts “that every American can be proud of.”
“Men who fought to preserve the institution of slavery and betrayed our country to defend white supremacy do not deserve to be honored by our military,” Brown said. “This commission is tasked with a serious mandate, to recommend redesignations that honor Americans who embody the values to which we aspire and reflect our nation’s diversity.”