Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley met recently with military and civilian service leaders to announce a 60-day “stand down” to discuss extremism, citing participation by active duty and veterans in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 as an example.
Military brass said extremism is “not an insignificant problem and has to be addressed.”
The Pentagon’s press secretary emphasized 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.”
The goal, Kirby said, is for “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.” Commanding officers and supervisors at all levels have two months to carry out a one-day stand-down, similar to a safety stand down, but DoD is being careful not to be overly prescriptive and wants to avoid impeding mission especially for commands currently in harms way.
Pentagon leaders want every service member to know what constitutes extremism and what is permissible when looking for extremists within the ranks. In time, Austin wants to formulate an organized plan for rooting extremism out of the service from an institutional perspective, Kirby said.
Austin framed the challenge as a leadership issue “down to the lowest levels” and DoD last Friday called attention to an Instruction issued in 2009, “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces.” The document states that “A Service member’s right of expression should be preserved to the maximum extent possible,” while also setting forth that commanders “should not be indifferent to conduct that, if allowed to proceed unchecked, would destroy the effectiveness of his or her unit.” It’s a delicate balancing act and no small challenge, raising thorny issues of Constitutional rights and unit cohesion.
The document – DoD Instruction 1325.06 – also places the onus on leadership: “The proper balancing of these interests depends largely upon the calm and prudent judgment of the responsible commander.”