Service chiefs speak out; Exclusive interview with USCG’s Adm. Schultz; Unmarked security forces in DC; Mattis slams Trump; And a bit more.

Now every service chief has denounced racism in the ranks. Shortly after Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday he sent a memo to department employees about racism, U.S. military leaders of every service branch delivered their own public message about racism in society and within the ranks — and obliquely, about the proper role of armed forces in a country roiled by protest. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber, Kevin Baron and Bradley Peniston tracked the reactions and rolled them all up, here.

“Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it,” Esper said Wednesday. And according to his memo to the force, he wrote, “I, like you, am steadfast in my belief that Americans who are frustrated, angry, and seeking to be heard must be ensured that opportunity.”

Air Force leaders were the first among their cohort to speak out about George Floyd, who on May 25 became the latest unarmed black man killed by law enforcement officers. Chief Msgt. Kaleth Wright, the Air Force’s top enlisted official, tweeted Monday that his “greatest fear” is “that I will wake up to a report that one of our Black Airmen has died at the hands of a white police officer.” The following day, Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, joined Wright in a video posted on the service’s social media channels. 

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Space Force’s commander and top enlisted leader, Gen. John Raymond and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, released a letter to the force that began, “The tragic death of George Floyd is wrong and goes against the founding principles of our it also serves as a stark reminder that racism and the unequal treatment is a reality for many and a travesty for all.”

The Army followed on Wednesday. Then came the Navy. By early evening, the U.S. Marine Corps commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps had posted and tweeted their statement. “Marines and Sailors, last summer, in my planning guidance, I stated there is no place in our Corps for racists,” said the statement issued by Gen. David Berger and Sgt. Maj. Troy Black. “Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division – rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself.”

Then Wednesday evening, National Guard chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel released his own memo, which reads, in part, “I am enraged that this story…keeps happening in our country, where unarmed men and women of color are the victims of police brutality and extrajudicial violence.”

And here’s U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz (who released his own internally-distributed statement to the force on Tuesday), speaking to Defense One Radio in a forthcoming exclusive interview:

  • “I've got a lot of shipmates that are angry, scared, wary; and shipmates who may feel as a nation, we haven't fully availed that American dream of equal opportunity — inalienable rights of life, liberty and happiness at all — among us. So we're focused on just making sure we're vigilant to shortcomings inside our own Coast Guard. We're really focused on inclusive leadership and being good shipmates, keying in on mutual respect — starting with simple questions to our African-American shipmates: How are you doing? Really focused on the art of respectful and empathetic listening.” 

Subscribe to Defense One Radio for more from the commandant later today on, e.g., China’s navy, Russia’s ambitions in the arctic, how the Coast Guard is increasingly using unmanned systems, how the coronavirus has challenged the force, and more. Coverage continues below the fold.

One more thing: Mattis speaks out. Former defense secretary James Mattis released a statement on Wednesday backing protesters and saying that the president is trying to turn Americans against one another. Read that statement in full, here.

From Defense One

Service Chiefs Acknowledge Racism in the Ranks, Pledge Dialogue, Change // Kevin Baron, Marcus Weisgerber, and Bradley Peniston: After days of civil unrest and several Esper missteps, each one of the service branch chiefs has begun to speak out.

Esper Opposes Insurrection Act Use // Katie Bo Williams: Trump has threatened to invoke the act in order to use active duty troops to police protests.

Who Are They? Unmarked Security Forces in DC Spark Fear // Katie Bo Williams: Mistaken for mercenaries, armed personnel from federal agencies refuse to identify themselves to street protestors and media.

James Mattis Denounces Trump as a Threat to the Constitution // Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic: In an extraordinary condemnation, the former defense secretary backs protesters and says the president is trying to turn Americans against one another.

Quieter Night In DC As Protests Continue Amid Large Militarized Response Force // Katie Bo Williams: The show-of-force angered protesters, but the crowds eventually dwindled without much police intervention.

America’s Generals Must Stand Up to Trump // Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic: Our military leaders are willing to take a bullet for this country. But are they prepared to take a pink slip?

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, a U.S. carrier group captures the German submarine U-505, the first warship captured on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the 19th century.

JUST IN: Iran has freed U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who last travelled to Iran in January 2018, CBS News’s Margaret Brennan relays via Twitter today. His family has thanked “Swiss diplomats for their help along with the @StateDept & Fmr Gov Bill Richardson,” Brennan tweets
Said White’s mom, Joanne, in a statement today: "For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare. I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home.” More from CNN, here.

Elements apparently from the South Carolina National Guard arrived in the nation’s capital Wednesday afternoon, regional WUSA9’s Mike Valaerio reported
But before their arrival, Pentagon officials said they’d be sending home a few hundred active-duty soldiers ordered to the National Capital Region earlier in the week. Then Defense Secretary Mark Esper was summoned to the White House in the middle of a press conference in which he pushed back on Trump’s threat to deploy active duty soldiers against protestors. Soon, Pentagon officials said Esper has reversed his decision to send the troops home. More from AP.
Democratic and independent lawmakers continued to demand answers and clarification about how military officials intend to allow their troops to be used amid the civil unrest. The chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, D-Calif., has called Esper and CJCS Gen. Milley to testify.
Even some GOP lawmakers offered support, at least, for Esper to push back on Trump’s hints that he might involve the Insurrection Act and deploy troops directly against protesters. The Hill, here.
BTW: Prison guards were put to work outside the White House, MSNBC’s Garrett Haake reported Wednesday on location.

  • Dive deeper: Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams dug into what’s known so far about those forces, here.

Two U.S. Park Police officers are on administrative leave after video showed two Australian journalists being attacked on live TV during Monday night’s protest in D.C. More from NBC News.
Food for thought: “We need to change what it means to be ‘police’ in America,” writes former CIA man who is now a Savannah, Ga., beat cop, Patrick Skinner, in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.
One more thing: Three men were held in Las Vegas Wednesday on terror charges in a right-wing conspiracy to spark violence during protests, AP reported. One is an Army reservist, another formerly enlisted in the Navy, the third formerly enlisted in the Air Force — and have "self identified as part of the 'Boogaloo' movement."

Senator who wants airplanes lifts his hold on the man tapped to become the first black service chief. Soon after Air Force Gen. Charles Brown’s May confirmation hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, blocked his nomination to become Air Force chief of staff — and the first African American service chief, according to three people who talked to Defense News. Sullivan, who spent much of his time at the hearing pressing Brown to base the new KC-46 tanker in his state, lifted his hold on Thursday. Read on, here.
The Senate also approved two nominees for defense policy jobs: Victor Mercado as assistant defense secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities; and James Anderson, as deputy defense undersecretary for policy. “With the confirmations, there are now 17 senate-confirmable seats open at the Pentagon. Thirteen of those spots have no announced nominee, including the full undersecretary of policy” — a role Anderson has filled since John Rood was forced out in February — “and is likely to continue to fill.” Read on, here.

In a reversal, the Philippines has now decided to keep its military agreement with the U.S. “as territorial tensions with China heat up in the South China Sea,” CNN reported Wednesday. "The agreement, signed in 1988, gives US military aircraft and vessels free entry into the Philippines and relaxes visa restrictions for US military personnel. The Philippine government gave the US 180 days' notice to end the deal in February, suggesting that Manila needed to rely on its own resources for its defense. On Tuesday, the US welcomed the change of heart."
Related: Philippine President Rody Duterte “is expected to sign legislation defining terrorism so broadly that critics of the government could easily be detained without charge,” the New York Times reports today.

And finally today: Flooding the right-wing zone with K-Pop. “The easiest and cheapest way to disrupt a rival’s communication system is to flood it with noise,” Vice reported Wednesday from the influence wars playing out on social media today — and how some far-right accounts are being flustered by the work of Korean pop music fans. However, “protestors are also deploying the [flood-the-zone] tactic in the field.” In Chicago, for example. Read on, here.