Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown speaking in the Oval Office last month. PHOTO: ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
By Nancy A. Youssef
Updated June 4, 2020 3:19 pm ET
The nation’s highest-ranking U.S. military officer reminded leaders of the armed forces of their oath to uphold the values of the Constitution, an admonition that came amid concern that President Trump may order active-duty troops onto American streets for the first time in nearly 30 years.
A one-page memo from Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was among a series of messages released this week by leaders of all the military service branches.
The memos were delivered more than a week after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, killing him, sparking nationwide protests over police brutality, and days after Pentagon leaders participated in a controversial photo session with Mr. Trump outside the White House, prompting concern about the military’s commitment to remaining apolitical.
“Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it,” Gen. Milley wrote in his memo, disclosed Wednesday, adding the Constitution “gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”
In a handwritten note at the bottom of his memo, he wrote: “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America. We will stay true to that oath and the American people.”
A memo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to military leaders.
PHOTO: THE JOINT STAFF/REUTERS
Approximately 1,600 active-duty federal troops are stationed on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., where they have been readied for a possible deployment in the event Mr. Trump invokes the 1807 Insurrection Act, which allows the use of federal troops stateside in extraordinary circumstances.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that he opposes the deployment of federal troops to quell disturbances, but a Pentagon plan to begin returning some of the pre-positioned troops back to their home bases was set aside after Mr. Esper held meetings Wednesday at the White House.
In addition, governors in 31 states have activated more than 30,000 National Guard troops.
Gen. Milley’s message stopped short of giving troops any specific order or mentioning Mr. Floyd’s death. Messages containing some of that type of information were delivered by the chiefs of the major U.S. military services.
Adm. Mike Gilday, who leads the Navy, distributed a five-minute video that he recorded at his home around midnight Wednesday, moved to do so after hearing from sailors, defense officials said.
In his message, Adm. Gilday stressed the need to understand how Mr. Floyd’s death affected African-Americans and minority service members.
“I will never know what it feels like when you watch that video of Mr. Floyd’s murder. And I can’t imagine the pain and the disappointment and the anger that many of you felt when you saw that,” Adm. Gilday said. “I think we need to listen. We have black Americans in our Navy and in our communities that are in deep pain right now. They are hurting.”
Gen. David Goldfein, who leads the Air Force, told airmen in a memo that: “Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020.”
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinstonissued a joint message:
“To Army leaders of all ranks, listen to your people, but don’t wait for them to come to you. Go to them. Ask the uncomfortable questions. Lead with compassion and humility, and create an environment in which people feel comfortable expressing grievances. Let us be the first to set the example,” they wrote.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the statements by the military leaders.
Some service chiefs had wanted to release such messages earlier but Pentagon leaders urged them to remain silent during the first week of protests, defense officials said.
That posture shifted after federal forces clashed Monday evening with crowds in Lafayette Park, just outside the White House. There, protesters were forcibly moved to allow Mr. Trump and an entourage including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr and members of the president’s family to walk to St. John’s Church, where Mr. Trump held a bible and stood for photos.
Gen. Milley was among those photographed leaving the White House toward the square.
Write to Nancy A. Youssef at email@example.com
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