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A panel Congress created to help erase remnants of the Confederacy from hundreds of Defense Department facilities, aircraft, and ships will visit nine military bases over the summer and early fall as part of its work.
The Naming Commission has until Oct. 1, 2022, to make recommendations on renaming “assets that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily for the Confederate States of America,” chair Michelle Howard, a retired admiral, told reporters Friday.
Howard, the first Black woman to command a U.S. Navy ship and a former vice chief of naval operations, said the commission initially will focus on nine bases named after Confederate officers: Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Gordon in Georgia, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Pickett in Virginia, Fort Polk in Louisiana, and Fort Rucker in Alabama.
The panel is also going to visit Fort Belvoir, not far from the Pentagon, which was first named after a Union general then renamed in 1930 for a plantation that originally sat at the site. The commission wants to look more into the historical context to understand the shift, Howard said.
The commissioners are going to each site because they “need an opportunity to meet with local civic leaders as well as have discussions with the elected leaders,” Howard said. “We’ll use the base commanders who generally have strong ties within the community to help set up conversations between us and those who have interest.”
The military services are gathering and refining the asset lists, she said.
“Once we get down to looking at buildings and street names, this potentially could run into the hundreds,” Howard said.
The commission was created by the fiscal 2021 defense authorization (Public Law 116-283), which also requires the panel to recommend any “base, installation, street, building, facility, aircraft, ship, plane, weapon, equipment or any other property owned or controlled by the Department of Defense” that should be renamed.
Former President Donald Trump vetoed the defense policy bill, in part because he opposed the changes to bases named after Confederate generals. “I have been clear in my opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to wash away history and to dishonor the immense progress our country has fought for in realizing our founding principles,” Trump wrote in his veto message.
Congress overrode his veto.
The commission is made up of eight members, four selected by the defense secretary and another four by the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. The commissioners were sworn in on March 2 and meet on a biweekly basis.
The panel’s first briefing to Congress is due in October and the final recommendations by Oct. 1, 2022. The defense secretary has final authority for selecting what to rename and putting the commission’s plan in place, according to Howard.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in February when he appointed Howard and three other members to the commission would “continue to pledge my personal commitment – and that of the Department – to making sure it succeeds.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org