NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy’s task force to combat systemic racism in the service held its first in-person listening sessions with Sailors aboard two warships July 22, to learn from their personal experiences.
The Navy stood up “Task Force One Navy” June 30 to address racism, sexism and other biases and their impact on naval readiness.
Topics the task force will address include racial disparities in the military justice system, advancement opportunities and diversity within the ranks, and other topics. An initial report to Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Russell Smith is due by July 31.
The task force’s senior enlisted adviser, Force Master Chief Huben L. Phillips of Commander, Naval Air Forces, met with small groups of Sailors at Naval Station Norfolk aboard aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and the destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72).
He also addressed the crew of each ship and the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) over their public address systems, known as the 1MC.
“Especially for those who feel disenfranchised and underrepresented, Task Force One Navy will level the playing field for everyone," Phillips said. "Our recommendations to the CNO and MCPON will ensure that every Sailor, every day will be treated with dignity and respect across the board and afforded equal opportunities of inclusion,” Phillips said. “The task force will not operate in a bubble. We will not make assumptions of your experiences. That is why I’m here today.”
Sailors who heard Phillips speak said they were excited a senior leader took time to visit with them in person.
Petty Officer 1st Class Jamie Brown, an aviation boatswain’s mate handler aboard Stennis, said he’s always wondered whether surveys that included questions about racism he’s filled out in the past were really paid attention to. He said he believes he may have been discriminated against in the past when it comes to advancement opportunities.
Having Phillips there in person to hear his stories and his shipmates’ stories shows that the issue is being taken seriously, he said.
“Anything that has a negative impact on the welfare of Sailors, that’s one too many, regardless of what it is,” Brown said.
During one of the meetings, Phillips asked if anyone had experienced racism while in the Navy. Nearly everyone there raised their hand to say yes, he said.
“They did talk about barriers in terms of professional development and retention, why some of their shipmates didn't stay in the Navy, or reasons why they feel like they didn’t get advanced or opportunities that they didn’t have because of either (their) race or gender," Phillips said.
Improving mentorship, training and education opportunities are among some of the task force’s other goals.
Other meetings with Sailors throughout the fleet are being held via video conference in order to maximize the reach while maintaining safety with COVID-19 still being a concern. Phillips said this task force is unlike any other one he’s served on and that everyone in the Navy will see a difference when its work is finished.
But he also told Sailors change starts with them.
“We're not going to wait on the task force to tell us how to treat each other. We’ve just got to treat each other with respect,” Phillips said. “We want to start there and we want to be curious about one another, to find out about our differences, because I truly believe it's our diversity that makes us the strong and mighty Navy that we are today.”