Good Afternoon All,
Shipmates, nothing in my career could bring me more pride than to be back with you as part of Our Navy-Marine Corps Team. In my first month as Your Secretary, it’s been my honor to exchange elbow greetings with many of you. I’ve met with Marines in the field and Sailors at sea. I’ve seen the urgency of dedicated service each of you bring to your mission and the strength you bring to Our Team. I am inspired by the work you do every day to keep our country safe. And I am, most especially, proud of each one of you as you exhibit Service Above Self!
As you stand watch around the world, I know your thoughts turn to events at home. From the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the continuing struggle for racial equality, our Nation is confronting many complex challenges. Our naval force is unfortunately not immune from these challenges, and we should not turn away from the hard questions.
During my recent visit to Naval Air Station Oceana, Our Shipmate Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Josiah Crosby asked me about racial disparities in the force. I applauded his courage and initiative in bringing up this important topic to address something that has plagued our nation since its birth. Thank you, Josiah! We need to talk about equality and justice if we are going to create the One Team approach we strive to attain. And we must act on those hard conversations, throughout the ranks and across the force, right up to the desk of the Secretary of the Navy.
All of us serve in the wake of courageous African American Sailors and Marines like Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the Montfort Point Marines, and Vice Adm. Samuel Gravely, Jr. They inspire us in our service and our determination to expand opportunity and equality throughout our force as they remind us that their actions in serving others was based on the right “ism” — Patriotism!
We must also however, bear the legacy of those who stood in their way. Segregation and injustice didn’t happen by accident. It was a reflection of society. Thankfully, African American Sailors like John Lawson, Medal of Honor recipient, proudly served in the Navy during the Civil and Spanish American Wars. Many of his African American Shipmates made the ultimate sacrifice during these same wars. Sadly even in the aftermath of such courageous action, it took conscious decisions, many from the very office I now hold, to deny them that same opportunity in the Navy and Marine Corps during World Wars I and II. It also took conscious decisions and behaviors at every level to begin to change that culture of oppression, harassment and inequality. I am reminded of the first African-American Naval Aviator, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, who was shot down in Korea and the actions of his Caucasian squadron mate, LTJG Thomas J. Hudner, who purposely crashed his plane next to Ensign Brown in an attempt to save his life.
So it takes conscious decisions like LTJG Hudner’s to make it right. We must never forget that equal treatment, equal justice, and equal opportunity require continuous, determined effort. Alongside Adm. Gilday and Gen. Berger, I am committed to confronting inequities in our command environment and military justice system. I am determined to ensure a command environment that encourages the hard questions, and stands ready to work alongside you to find the right answers.
“United” is, and always will be, the most important word in “United States Navy and Marine Corps.” So talk to your Shipmates. Speak up to your leadership. Listen to your subordinates and get this issue out in the light. Work together to identify root causes and build lasting solutions. Learn from one another and help us all unite and move forward as One Navy-Marine Corps Team. Full Speed Ahead!
Kenneth J. Braithwaite
77th Secretary of the Navy