When the Navy holds its daylong stand-downs to address the extremist ideologies that leaders say have infiltrated the military ranks, sailors across the fleet will be required to reaffirm the oath they took to the U.S. Constitution.
All Navy personnel — uniformed and civilian — will have to repeat the oath of enlistment or office and discuss what actions betray that promise during the virtual or in-person learning sessions that must be held by April 6. The stand-downs will focus on the “damaging effects of extremism” and how to eliminate it, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell wrote in a service-wide message.
“As public servants, we took an oath to the Constitution and we will not tolerate those who participate in actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, particularly actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” Nowell wrote.
The Navy is the first military service to reveal what leaders will cover during the military’s upcoming stand-downs. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the one-day events last month after dozens of veterans and service members were arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Stand-downs are typically held after accidents to ensure safety protocols are being met, but military leaders have used them to address other problems, such as sexual assault or suicides. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called the arrests following the Capitol siege a “wake-up call” for defense leaders.
Whether extremists are in the ranks is no longer debatable, he added this week. “It’s really just about to what degree,” Kirby said.
Navy leaders can access service-provided a discussion guide and slides to help prepare for the upcoming stand-downs. The discussion guide stresses that troops’ freedom of speech and right to peaceful assembly are protected by the First Amendment. However, the document adds, “these important rights are not unlimited in their protections.”
“Vandalizing government property and storming a police barrier is not an exercise of First Amendment rights,” the guide states. “…Understanding that we support and defend the Constitution of the United States, not a supervisor, political appointee or person occupying a political office.”
Lawyers representing some former and current military personnel accused of entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have argued that their clients were following President Donald Trump’s directions.
Commanders can tailor the discussions they have with their personnel, but all must include the group reaffirmation of the oath of enlistment and discussions about what it means. They must also address the responsibility leaders at every level have to report and investigate signs of extremism, and the findings of a Navy task force that recently made dozens of recommendations about how to end racism in the ranks.
Adm. John Aquilino, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, held one of the service’s first stand-downs with members of a West Coast carrier strike group on Feb. 8, after hate symbols were found aboard two of the group’s ships in a matter of weeks.
“We are all sailors, we are all shipmates, and we are here to serve our nation and defend the Constitution,” Aquilino told the strike group’s crew members. “I owe you a safe place to work so that you can execute your mission and fulfill your oath.”
The Navy’s slides for the stand-down include several anecdotal examples of behavior prohibited in the ranks. These range from a Marine who was discharged after posing in blackface on social media to a soldier who faced federal charges for distributing information on building improvised explosive devices, and expressed a desire to travel to Ukraine to fight with a paramilitary group with neo-Nazi sympathies.
While most troops perform their duties with integrity, the slides add, “recent events have shown that we must be ever vigilant in our efforts to identify and combat such ideology within the ranks and organizations.”