Navy Ship Names Could Fall Under Pentagon's New Diversity Review

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Aircraft carrier John C. Stennis
The aircraft carrier John C. Stennis (CVN 74) sails through the Philippine Sea on FEb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Cole C. Pielop)

The names of U.S. warships could face new scrutiny in coming months as the Pentagon moves forward with a military-wide effort to target racial bias and prejudice in the ranks.

A Defense Department-wide review to improve inclusion and diversity will likely not only look at military installation names, but those of Navy vessels too.

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"While I cannot speak for these three groups of leaders who will provide recommendations to the [defense secretary], I would personally expect that at least one of these groups will make specific recommendations regarding the naming of bases and ships," Christopher Garver, a Pentagon spokesman, told Navy Times.

Lisa Lawrence, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper is moving forward quickly, but deliberately, in setting up the groups that will examine military issues related to diversity.

Like Army installations named for Confederate leaders, the names of at least two Navy ships have been called into question in recent weeks as the country grapples with ongoing protests for an end to racism and police brutality.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Reuben Keith Green recently laid out his case for renaming the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in this month's U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine. Green acknowledged in his piece that the conversation over the carrier's name would be an uncomfortable one, and asked readers to conduct research on the longtime senator before dismissing his argument.

"Stennis's record championing white supremacy is long," Green wrote. "... Most sailors -- and Navy leaders -- have little idea of his background, but the Navy, as an institution, has a moral obligation to know. And, it should act."

Stennis opposed Black equality, spending his entire career as a Mississippi prosecutor, judge and state senator "attempting to ensure it did not happen," Green wrote.

The nationwide debate has also resurrected questions over why the Navy has a guided-missile cruiser named for the Battle of Chancellorsville, which the Confederacy won. When Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday announced on social media earlier this month that he directed his staff to craft an order that would ban the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy bases, ships, aircraft and submarines, one former sailor said renaming the Chancellorsville should be next.

"I never loved the fact that I was serving on a ship named after a Confederate-won battle," the sailor wrote. "What a strange message. Her crew has always deserved better."

The name of the oceanographic survey ship Maury also has ties to the Confederacy, U.S. Naval Institute News recently noted. Matthew Fontaine Maury oversaw the Naval Observatory and was instrumental in laying the foundation of modern oceanography, the outlet reported, but later resigned and served in the Confederate Navy.

Green, in his op-ed for Proceedings, said that if the Navy is serious about listening to minority sailors and officers, they need to consider the optics of having the John C. Stennis in the same fleet as future carrier Doris Miller, named for a Black Navy Cross recipient.

"One sends a strong message of inclusivity, and the other an immoral and cringeworthy one," Green wrote.

The 2021 defense policy bill, released by the Senate this week, if passed would push all branches of the military to remove, within three years, all names, symbols, displays, monuments or other Confederate paraphernalia from Defense Department assets.

President Donald Trump has already said he will reject attempts to rename 10 Army bases that honor Confederate leaders.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: The Navy Once Called Him an 'Unknown Negro Sailor.' Now It's Naming a Carrier After Him

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