Army Gen. Mark A. Milley condemned systemic racism saying, "There is no place our armed forces for manifestations or symbols of racism, bias or discrimination," during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee July 9.
Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper testified about the military role in wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policemen in May.
"George Floyd's death amplified the pain, the frustration and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in and day out," the chairman said. "I have many policemen in my family, and I am personally outraged by George Floyd's brutal and senseless killing. The protests that have ensued not only speak to this injustice, but also to centuries of injustice towards Black Americans. We, as a nation and as a military, are still struggling with racism, and we have much work to do."
The military is built around teams of service members banding together to accomplish shared missions, Milley said. "We who wear the cloth of our nation understand that cohesion is a force multiplier," he said. "Divisiveness leads to defeat. As one of our famous presidents said, 'a house divided does not stand.'"
Milley said the U.S. military is a cohesive team consisting of people of different races and genders and religious and sexual orientations working to accomplish their mission and peace in the war, all over the globe. "Equality and opportunity are matters of military readiness, not just political correctness."
The military helped lead the integration of U.S. society when then-President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces in 1948 — 17 years before the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
"But we are not perfect," the chairman said. "And we must thoughtfully examine our institution and ensure it is a place where all Americans see themselves represented and have equal opportunity to succeed, especially in leadership positions."
He noted that all members of the military swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. "This oath underpins my duties as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I am deeply committed to fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of my oath regardless of consequences to self," Milley said. "We, the United States military, hold dear the Constitution and the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic."
Milley clarified June 1 news reports that implied he was in command of the troops protecting Washington, D.C.
"My role as the chairman is to be the principal military adviser to the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council," he said. "Throughout the recent period of civil unrest in our nation, I exercised this role exclusively. At no time was I ever in command of any forces. All of my actions have been consistent with my statutory authority as an adviser, who is explicitly not in the chain of command."
Milley said the vast majority of protests around the nation were peaceful. "Peaceful protests means that American freedom is working," he said.
Still, some turned violent, and governors felt the need to call-up National Guardsmen to supplement local police efforts.
Violent protests expanded from 13 cities on May 29 to 34 cities two days later. "By the morning of 1 June, 29 states and the District of Columbia had activated the National Guards totaling more than 17,000 National Guardsmen and women," he said.
In the nation's capital, violence escalated. "Our nation's monuments and government buildings were defaced, businesses in D.C. were looted, and some were set ablaze," Milley said.
There were more than 420 arrests, and 150 law enforcement officers and a half-dozen National Guardsmen were injured. National Guardsmen from 11 different states were called up to assist in Washington.
"Since the protests began, I sought information to help me assess the ability of federal, state and local authorities to handle situations under their responsibility," Milley said. "I continually assessed and advised that it was not necessary to employ active duty troops in response to the civil unrest occurring in our nation."
"It was my view then, and it remains so now, that local, state and federal police backed up by the National Guard under governor control, could, and continually can, effectively handle the security situation in every case across the country," he continued.
Early on, there was a shortage of National Guardsmen, and Milley recommended that Esper put 1,700 active duty personnel on an increased alert level. "None of them [was] ever used, and there was never an active-duty troop used in any location anywhere in the United States," the chairman said.
Milley also advised and Esper ordered de-escalation measures to be taken, including having guardsmen remove weapons and helmets inconsistent with force protection measures. "These de-escalation measures were widely implemented, … and, by 4 June, active duty and National Guard units began redeploying from the vicinity of Washington, D.C., back to home station," he said.
The guardsmen did their jobs professionally and with sensitivity, Milley said.
"The United States military comes from the people of our nation, and we remain dedicated to the Constitution," he said. "We will never turn our back on that document. We swore an oath of allegiance — at the cost of our lives — to an idea embedded within that document, and we will always protect it."