In a Nov. 18, 2019 photo, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell engages with sailors during a MyNavyHR Career Development Symposium at Naval Station Mayport, Fla.

In a Nov. 18, 2019 photo, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell engages with sailors during a MyNavyHR Career Development Symposium at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. (Michael Russell/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — A new Navy task force established to address biases in the service such as racism and sexism is working to create “enduring and meaningful change” within the ranks, Navy leaders said Thursday.

“It's not like we have not been committed to inclusion and diversity in the Navy for many years and it's not like we haven't taken many actions there. But I think it's safe to say that as we look at current events it's really put a light on the fact that we need to do more. We need to do it more quickly,” Vice Adm. John Nowell, chief of naval personnel, told reporters Thursday.

The military is creating diversity and inclusion initiatives in response to the national dialogue that has erupted over systemic racism in the United States after the deaths of several African Americans this year involving law enforcement.

On June 18, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced three initiatives to address diversity in the military, including the creation of a Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services, which was inspired by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

“As a Navy – uniform and civilian, active and Reserve – we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force,” Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in a prepared statement. “That is why we are standing up Task Force One Navy, which will work to identify and remove racial barriers and improve inclusion within our Navy.”

Task Force One Navy was established Monday to recommend reforms in nine key areas in the service, including recruiting, promotions, health care, and military justice. The task force members are officers and enlisted personnel and civilians, and they will reach out to academics and industry members, according to Nowell. Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, an African American man, will lead the task force and report its findings to Gilday through Nowell. Force Master Chief Huben Phillips, an African American man, will be the deputy and the civilian adviser, Jane Roberts, is a Hispanic woman, Nowell said.

“I tell you that these are not figureheads, that's not why they're there. But we think that diversity that we build into the task force is important. And so, it's not just about race, ethnicity, gender, it's also about where are you from, what was your education, what lens do you look through,” he said.

There is momentum in the Navy now to make these positive changes, Fleet Master Chief Wes Koshoffer said.

“I'm certainly committed. And the team of leaders that we're putting together, the groups that we're going to be in contact with through the task force, the conversations we're having today are different than conversations — we're approaching real talk. And that to me is very exciting,” Koshoffer said.

The task force will address the nine key areas not on a ranked bases but in parallel, Nowell said, and will fix things as they find them. The first report from the task force will be submitted to Gilday by the end of July, and a final report by December, according to the task force’s charter.

Nowell discussed the lack of representation in the officer ranks in which African Americans only make up 9% of officers though 13% of the U.S. population is African American, he said. African Americans have greater representation in the enlisted ranks of up to 20%, Nowell said, but the Navy wants to make certain that officers reflect the American population.

“So, as we look at the officer corps the issue is if we don't bring enough African American officers in the front door, then I don't have any hope of the person sitting here and talking to you as [chief of naval personnel] being African American,” he said.

The task force will look at what barriers are in place that need to be removed to allow more diversity and inclusion in the force, according to Nowell.

The goal of the task force is not just to recommend things quickly but to make certain the recommendations endure for a long time.

“It's a long-term effort. The future master chief petty officer of the Navy is in boot camp today, and the future [chief of naval operations] is at the Naval Academy or [Reserve officer training corps] school today. So we've got work to do for the future, as well as the short-term actions we can take,” Koshoffer said Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now