The number of U.S. military assets that may need to be renamed as part of an effort to scrub Confederate names could reach into the hundreds, the retired admiral leading the renaming effort said Friday.
“I think once we get down to looking at buildings and street names, this potentially could run into the hundreds,” retired Adm. Michelle Howard told reporters on a conference call.
Howard, a former vice chief of naval operations and the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, is the chairwoman of the Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorates the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America, also known as the Naming Commission.
The commission was created in last year’s defense policy bill over the veto of then-President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE. The panel has eight members, four appointed by the Pentagon and four by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. Howard’s vice chairman on the commission is retired Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, professor emeritus of history at West Point.
Trump argued the effort was among “politically motivated attempts … to wash away history,” but lawmakers in both parties held that it’s far past time for the military to remove names honoring traitors who fought against the United States.
During debate on the bill, focus largely fell on 10 Army bases named after Confederate leaders.
But the legislation requires renaming any “base, installation, street, building, facility, aircraft, ship, plane, weapon, equipment or any other property owned or controlled by the Department of Defense.”
In her update on the commission’s efforts Friday, Howard said its initial focus will be on nine bases owned by the Department of Defense named after Confederate leaders: Forts Lee, Hood, Benning, Gordon, Bragg, Polk, Pickett, A.P. Hill and Rucker.
The tenth base named after a Confederate military officer, Camp Beauregard, does not fall within the commission’s authority because it is owned by the Louisiana National Guard, Howard said. But, she added, the commission has “started to coordinate with the National Guard just to get an understanding.”
Over the summer and fall, commissioners will visit the nine installations with Confederate names, as well as Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Belvoir was originally named after a Union general, but had its name changed in the 1930s to that of the plantation that originally sat at the site, so Howard said the commission wants to “dig more deeply into the historical context and understand the shift.”
The Navy, meanwhile, has identified at least one ship so far to look at for renaming, Howard said: the USNS Maury, an oceanographic survey ship named after a commander who resigned from the U.S. Navy to sail for the Confederacy.
The number of Navy ships identified for the renaming effort is expected to grow, with Howard suggesting the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser as a possibility. The Battle of Antietam is considered a strategic victory for the Union in the Civil War, but a tactical stalemate.
“It depends on whether or not you see Antietam as a Union victory,” Howard said. “So that needs more exploration behind what the ship was named. And we’ll work with — for any of these where there’s battles — the intention at the time of the naming, what the purpose and thought process was, the historical context behind that naming.”
The commission has so far met five times on a biweekly basis since being sworn in in March, a pace Howard said is likely to continue. In addition to the base visits, Howard said the commission will soon visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and later the U.S. Naval Academy.
One of the issues opponents of renaming the military bases has raised are local attachments to the existing names, arguing the communities were not being given a say.
Howard said commissioners will work with installation leadership to identify local stakeholders to get their input.
“One of the reasons we know we need to visit the installations in person is, we need an opportunity to meet with local civic leaders, as well as, for example, have discussions with the elected leaders,” she said. “We'll be able to reach out to elected leaders, for example the local district congressmen, and they can help us identify community leaders that we need to speak to so that we can account for their perspectives as we go forward and develop the process for new names.”