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SECDEF and Army secretary open to renaming posts named for Confederate generals

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are open to the possibility of renaming the service’s installations currently named after Confederate leaders.

“The secretary of defense and secretary of the Army are open to a bi-partisan discussion on the topic,” said Army spokesperson Col. Sunset R. Belinsky in a statement Monday afternoon, which was first reported by Politico.

The two leaders’ openness to renaming installations comes after a week of protests across the United States, including in the nation’s capital, following the death of George Floyd, a black man who prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s throat.

Army National Guard personnel were brought into the Washington, D.C., area, and elsewhere in the country, in response to those protests. Active duty forces from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Drum, New York, were also briefly flown into the National Capital Region, though they were never used in D.C. and were ordered home late last week.

The issue of racial injustice was front and center during the tense first week of June, and as Confederate monuments were spotlighted by activists as symbols that should be removed, the Army’s own history of naming installations after Confederate leaders gradually came under scrutiny once again.

Army officials previously told Army Times in February that there were “no plans to rename any street or installation, including those named for Confederate generals.”

Those officials said in a statement that the naming of those sites was “done in a spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology.”

The possibility of renaming the installations also comes after the Marine Corps commandant instructed his subordinates to remove Confederate-related paraphernalia from bases across the world.

The decision by the Marine Corps is likely much easier than the one the Army faces. Marines did not have the same sort of Civil War presence that could be used to justify honoring Confederate leaders.

Confederate Army commander Gen. Robert E. Lee, for instance, has a barracks named after him at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, an institution he graduated from in 1829. However, Lee Barracks only opened in the early 1960s, a time when the civil rights movement was gaining momentum.

The Army has 10 military installations named after Confederate military commanders, including Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. There are no such installations for the other military departments, according to the Congressional Research Service.

One popular idea sometimes suggested is for the Army to rename its military installations after Medal of Honor recipients. That was an option favored by Mike Jason, a retired Army colonel who spoke with Army Times in February.

“It’s not about negating the past," Jason added. “We’re an evolved and inclusive military now and we have a lot of new heroes who deserve to have their names emboldened in history.”

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