Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pentagon, Congress appoint panel members to rename Confederate bases | Military approves 20 more coronavirus vaccination teams

Greg Nash

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon and Congress on Friday appointed members of a new commission tasked with renaming Confederate-named military bases and property.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who earlier this month ousted Trump administration-appointed members from the panel, named four individuals to the commission.

Who was chosen: Austin appointed retired Adm. Michelle Howard, a former vice chief of naval operations and the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship; former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Bob Neller; retired Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, professor emeritus of history at West Point; and Kori Schake, a former State and Defense department official who is now director of foreign and defense policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

Lawmakers’ selections: The Democratic chairmen and top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services committees appointed members as well.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) selected retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, the first Black graduate of West Point to serve as head of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) chose veteran Jerry Buchanan, “a private business owner and civic leader in Tulsa,” according to a committee statement.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) picked Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch, a former director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) selected fellow committee member Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

About the commission: The group — created in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — is tasked with planning how to change “names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia to assets of the Department of Defense that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America” within three years.

The Army’s 10 bases named after Confederate leaders have received the most public attention, 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.”

A long time coming: Lawmakers in both parties argued that it was long overdue to remove names honoring traitors who fought to preserve slavery, not least because it affects the morale of Black service members.

The Trump administration opposed the panel’s creation, with the former president claiming the NDAA’s requirement to strip Confederate names was a politically motivated attempt “to wash away history.”

Following a veto override of the NDAA, then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller named four members to the commission before President Biden took office.

Austin ousted the members less than a month later, removing the last-minute appointees along with hundreds of members from the Pentagon’s advisory committees.


PENTAGON APPROVES 20 ADDITIONAL COVID-19 VACCINATION TEAMS: The Pentagon has approved 20 more military teams, a combined total of 4,700 service members, to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administer COVID-19 vaccines across the country.

Following last week’s approval of five such teams, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized an additional 20 to support FEMA at vaccination mega-sites and smaller locations, top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

The breakdown: The 20 will be broken up into 10 teams of 222 personnel supporting mega-vaccination sites and 10 teams of 139 personnel helping at smaller ones. 

All the teams, largely made up of active duty forces, will be sent out “as requirements evolve.”

Earlier: The Pentagon last week announced that it had authorized an initial 1,100 active-duty service members to help FEMA at five state vaccination sites, a response to the agency’s request to the Defense Department in late January to assist with the Biden administration’s 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days goal.

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part, in the past several weeks have discussed how the military can assist the agency with President Biden’s ambitious goal of vaccinating 1.5 million people per day in the coming weeks.

Possible solutions broached include sending up to 100 teams of active-duty and National Guard forces — a total of 10,000 troops — to vaccination sites.

Logistics complicate: Of the first five teams approved, only one has been announced and deployed, a team from Fort Carson, Col., that arrived in Los Angeles to support a vaccination mega-hub. Kirby said the team expects to be up and running by Monday.

He added that the Pentagon will soon have more information as to where the other four teams will be sent, but that it is a complicated process that requires coordination with local and state authorities.


BASE BREACH ‘ERODED’ PUBLIC TRUST IN SECURITY: Public trust in security at Joint Base Andrews, the Maryland military installation that houses Air Force One, was “eroded” after a man gained unauthorized access last week, the base’s commander says.

“The nation’s eyes are on Joint Base Andrews almost every day because of the national security missions we are tasked to execute,” Col. Tyler Schaff, the installation’s commander, wrote in a Feb. 9 memo. “We must maintain the trust and confidence of our nation and those we serve. This trust has been eroded because we allowed an individual to penetrate our layered security and ultimately, was able to access America’s Airfield.”

What happened: On Feb. 4, a man identified as Joseph Armstrong, 36, made it past the flight line and entered a C-40 aircraft used to transport VIP passengers. He was booked by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, given a federal summons for trespassing and turned over to local law enforcement in Virginia as he had two outstanding warrants.

The fallout: Though Armstrong “did no harm,” the incident “could have been catastrophic to our nation’s leadership and could have had a disastrous ending,” Schaff wrote.

“We must do better, we must learn from this unacceptable incident, and we must ensure an intrusion like this never happens again.”

New guards: Schaff noted, however, that he had “complete confidence” in his service members’ ability to protect the base and that he would advocate for more time and resources to help them guard the installation.

“I understand the pressure you face each shift, knowing that as Defenders, you must be right 100 percent of the time, and a bad actor only needs to be lucky once,” he wrote.

Schaff said that he was reinforcing service members’ authority to not allow access to the installation if visitors don’t have the proper credentials, if they are not properly vetted and if they haven’t been identified or cleared “regardless of who they are or where they work.”

He added that “several technology upgrades have been funded and are awaiting installation” at the base, though he did not go into detail. 



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