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Only Enduring Effort Will Bring Lasting Change--Navy leaders to NNOA Symposium

12 August 2020

From MC1 Mark D. Faram, Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs

How the Navy is seeking to eliminate systemic racism, bias, and discrimination in the service was the main theme among the Navy's flag officers who spoke virtually on "Navy Day" at this year's National Naval Officers Association annual meeting Aug. 6.

Eliminating systemic racism, bias, and discrimination in the service isn't a short-term goal as Navy leadership realizes the effort must be enduring – continuing long after today's Task Force One Navy is done. 

Acknowledging the effort's long haul up front was a common theme among the Navy's flag officers who spoke virtually on "Navy Day" at this year's National Naval Officers Association annual meeting Aug. 6. 

The NNOA is a professional affinity organization made up of Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard professionals to promote recruiting, professional development, and retention to achieve a diverse officer corps that reflects the demographics of the nation.

The organization's annual symposium provides a day for each sea service to promote their own professional development and training of future service leaders. 

Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of the Norfolk-based Fleet Forces Command, weighed in on the Navy's ongoing efforts to develop a Culture of Excellence (COE) in the Navy. It's an effort he's intimately involved with as a member of the effort's board of governance. 

"NNOA's championing of our Culture of Excellence ideals of inclusion and diversity takes on even more urgency as we look at today's global security environment, not just because our nation is ready for necessary, free, and fearless dialogue, but that our Naval mission demands it," Grady said, kicking off the day's lineup of speakers.

"Only inclusive and diverse teams exhibit the full trust and transparency needed to recognize and seize opportunities at speed," Grady said. "And from that foundation of trust and transparency comes our mission command ethos – empowering our teams to exercise judgment in carrying out assigned tasks, underpinned by the human elements of trust, initiative, force of will, and creativity."

Though the Navy's efforts to develop an underpinning of excellence in the service – and with it, better diversity in the ranks – predates recent events, Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, the chief of naval personnel said. The current events that have sparked a nation-wide racial discussion are an opportunity for the Navy to add a sense of urgency to the effort.

"The Navy has been getting after this in a pretty deliberate fashion," Nowell said. "I would maintain that these recent events … give us a chance to accelerate things - it gives us a chance to get more visibility across the Navy, certainly the nation as well." 

But most importantly, he said, it's a chance to dig deeper into the issues "to really look hard at what might we have missed" as well as "what might we have found earlier."

As a white male, Nowell said the past month has been an education for him as he listened to the stories of Sailors – some on his own staff – and what they've endured as young black males. 

"I think for many of us, the dialogue has been eye-opening," Nowell said. "I found that I had several Sailors here at the headquarters in Washington DC who told stories of being pulled over because they were driving slow, and the police were worried that people were driving slow were looking for places to loot. I gotta tell you, I was in disbelief."

He also noted he's well aware of concerns voiced to him that the Navy has too often set up "task forces" to deal with issues and then has moved on too quickly without creating lasting change. Not this time, Nowell said. Task Force One Navy is now entwined with the Navy's ongoing Culture of Excellence efforts. This, he said, ensures the issues the task force finds, and their fixes will be "institutionalized" and not lost in the slipstream of time. 

Charged with commanding that task force is Rear Adm. Alvin "Bull" Holsey. A career aviator, Holsey told listeners he believes his mandate is a "historic opportunity here to take an internal look at ourselves and identify and try to remove some of these barriers to clearly reflect the nation we serve." 

This is about dignity, respect, readiness," Holsey said. "While the demonstrations in our cities and the national discussion on a racial issue presented an excellent opportunity to take this internal look, the charter of Task Force One Navy is broad enough to address issues of gender, religion, age, ethnicity, as well as race."

His mandate, he said, is to "identify barriers" and to "make a difference" for everyone in the Navy.

"It's not about black or white - it's about readiness - it's about a team," he said. "No enemy can divide us where we stand shoulder to shoulder as one team, and one Navy team and fight -- and I believe really achieve warfighting excellence."
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