Defense and congressional leaders on Friday unveiled the eight-person panel charged with renaming military sites which currently honor Confederate leaders, work scheduled to be completed in the next three years.
The appointees are likely to face significant political pressure from local officials and members of Congress as they review and propose changes to a host of military locations honoring Confederate officers and officials.
The most prominent of those are the names of 10 Army installations, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Polk in Louisiana.
Last fall, nearly half of service members surveyed in a Military Times poll favored renaming bases that honor Confederate leaders and a large majority favored banning Confederate symbols and paraphernalia from all Defense Department locations. But conservative lawmakers have worked to block the changes, arguing the move would be confusing and upsetting to communities surrounding the well-known sites.
Under the rules laid out by Congress in the fiscal 2021 defense authorization act, the panel will develop plans to replace the names while “incorporating local sensitivities associated with the naming or renaming of assets.”
The panel will be made up of a mix of retired military officials and scholars. In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the appointees “possess unique and relevant experience, in and out of government, that I know will inform this important effort.”
Per the law, Austin selected four of the panel members. They are:
• retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, who served as vice chief of naval operations from 2014 to 2016, the first woman and first African American ever to hold the post;
• retired Marine Corps Gen. Bob Neller, U.S. Marine Corps, who served as commandant of the Marine Corps from 2015 to 2019;
• retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, a professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Military Academy;
• and Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Each of the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees also chose a panel member. Their appointees are:
• retired Gen. Thomas Bostick, the first African American to serve as commander of the Army Corps of engineers (chosen by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I.);
• Lonnie Bunch III, the first African American to serve as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (chosen by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.);
• Jerry Buchanan, Army veteran and former chairman of the Tulsa County GOP Party in Oklahoma (chosen by Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.);
• and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., whose home state includes Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, two sites currently honoring Confederate generals (chosen by House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala.);
The commission is mandated to submit a report on removing “symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that commemorate the Confederacy” on military sites by October 2022. Under the law, the defense secretary of Defense must implement the commission’s plan no later than Jan. 1, 2024.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.