Army to drop photos from soldier records to quell racial bias

Army to drop photos from soldier records to quell racial bias
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The Army will stop using photos of soldiers on records used when choosing to promote service members and for other personnel matters in an effort to halt racial bias in such decisions, top Army officials said Thursday.

The move — part of a new initiative known as Project Inclusion which will also include an examination of any racial disparity in military justice cases — will be put into action beginning in August and is meant to improve diversity across the force, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyFormer DC Guard commander calls for retraction of Pentagon watchdog's Jan. 6 report Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Pentagon watchdog raises questions over retired DC Guard commander's account of Jan. 6 MORE told reporters at the Pentagon.

The effort is the Army’s first major change in response to reactions stemming from the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police last month. Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide and new scrutiny on racial disparities and biases within the military and other institutions.

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As part of that move, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions Three key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe MORE last week announced an internal review aimed at finding ways to "ensure equal opportunity across all ranks."

“We are all going to be traveling to our installations to meet with groups of soldiers in small venues and have very hard, uncomfortable conversations,” McCarthy said. “A lot has to be done to address the symbolic challenges that we face that could create divisiveness in our ranks … this will be an enduring effort for the Army.”

The widespread protests have also broadly led to debates about Confederate symbols. The Army said it was open to renaming its 10 bases named for Confederates before President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE earlier this month tweeted his staunch opposition to doing so.

Asked if he had heard from service members that are expressing discomfort with the names of the 10 bases, McCarthy said leaders, including Esper, have had discussions on a militarywide policy on the matter.  

“Obviously the Commander-in-Chief put out specific guidance related to bases ... looking at what is the uniform policy for confederate symbols, we’re working with the office of the secretary of defense on a policy related to that,” he said.

McCarthy would not say whether such a policy would overturn decisions made by other military services. The Marine Corps and U.S. Forces Korea have already banned the display of the Confederate battle flag, and the Navy says it will also do so.  

Congress also has a hand in the issue, with dozens of Senate Democrats this week introducing a bill that would require the Pentagon to strip Confederate names from military bases and other property within one year.

Trump, meanwhile, has said he would veto a defense bill that requires changing Confederate names, and that he would “not even consider” renaming the 10 Army bases up for debate.