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Navy fleet admirals meet with sailors on San Diego warships about extremists

Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, the centerpiece of the Carl Vinson Strike Group, leaves Naval Air Station North Island (Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Pacific Fleet leaders visited several San Diego-based ships Monday and Tuesday to begin a series of “stand-downs” addressing extremism in the ranks. The stand-downs were ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week.

The discussions come on the heels of two racist incidents on San Diego ships. Recently a Black sailor found a noose on his bunk on the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain.

And the Navy announced Tuesday that “hate speech graffiti” was found in a bathroom aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which is currently out to sea off the coast.

Adm. John Aquillino, the Hawaii-based commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Fleet Master Chief James Honea, met with sailors on the Carl Vinson and the Lake Champlain, as well as several other San Diego-based ships and squadrons for what the Navy described as “candid discussions” on eliminating extremist ideologies in the military.

A Navy press release described some of the discussion.

“I have policies in the Pacific Fleet that we do not care what race you are, what creed you are, what god you pray to, what sexual orientation you are, or what gender you are,” Aquillino told sailors. “We are all Sailors, we are all shipmates, and we are here to serve our nation and defend the Constitution. I owe you a safe place to work so that you can execute your mission and fulfill your oath.”

Aquillino and Honea met with members of the Vinson’s crew and as its embarked air wing. Sailors told them about first-hand experiences of discrimination in the Navy.

The admiral also addressed the entire crew via the ship’s public address system before leaving.

“Extremism in our Navy is unacceptable,” Aquilino said. “We will not tolerate it. We will stomp this out, and we need your help to do it.”

Aquillino and Honea were not the only fleet leaders talking to sailors. Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, the San Diego-based commander of Naval Surface Forces, visited several ships, including the guided-missile cruiser Cowpens, the landing helicopter assault ship Tripoli and the guided-missile destroyers Chafee and Stockdale.

“I need your help,” Kitchener told sailors. “I need you to reinforce that our sailors have a safe place to work. Our strength is our people — no matter who they are or where they come from.”

On Tuesday, just after the San Diego stand-downs, Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday released a message to the fleet on extremist behavior.

“Just in the past few weeks, there have been two separate incidents where symbols of hate and violence were anonymously left in living areas aboard ships in our Fleet,” Gilday wrote. “We must better understand the scope of the problem, get after this issue, and eliminate conduct that is driven by extremist beliefs. No doubt, this is a leadership issue. We will own this.”

On/ Feb. 3 Austin, the first Black man to become defense secretary, ordered the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines to hold stand downs to address extremism and White nationalism within 60 days. Military leaders are under pressure to address extremism after current and former service members joined the thousands who participated in the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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