May 31, 2020
Dear NNOA Shipmates,
Today, I want to reach out to you in light of the recent disheartening and deleterious events that have caused demonstrations and violence across our nation. I know some of you are asking yourselves, “Why should I serve a country that seems to have so little regard for me as a person of color.” I have received calls, emails, and texts from people of all ranks and ethnicities voicing their despondence and anger. “This is not the country that I swore to support and defend” are words I have heard from several, including white officers.
It is important for us to be frank about the circumstances that are the cause of this agitation:
• The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many others at the hands of law enforcement officials and vigilantes.
• Disproportionate illness and death from COVID-19, highlighting a healthcare system that has failed to serve people of color equally.
• Systematic and institutional racism and sexism that keeps the highest ranks of our military from being as diverse as the majority of its members.
• Unfair treatment of people of color by our justice system.
• Economic inequality within our communities.
I am sure that many of you can add a number of other injustices to this list of grievances. You and I wonder, pray, meditate, “What must one do in the face of these events? How should we share our perspectives to make our institutions more just? How should we address these matters with some who don’t share our experiences and perspectives?” I don’t have a perfect answer for you, but I will share my opinion and hope that it serves to elicit positive action for constructive change. Now is the time for leaders to step forward with calmness, fortitude, and
wisdom in the face of anger and mistrust.
This is not a time for silence. This is our country and our Constitution, and it deserves leadership in the worst of times as it does in the best of times. If you are leading others, they need to know what you think and why you continue to serve with honor. They need to know that the Constitution to which we all have sworn allegiance still dictates our actions. And that now, as ever, we fight for our nation to live up to the words in the Constitution for each and every one of us. Frederick Douglass reminds us all, “No Struggle…No Progress”; Adam Clayton Powell
told us, “Keep the Faith Baby”; Mahalia Jackson sang, “Keep Your Hand to the Plow”; and Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Our military continues to be a meritocracy, but it is not a perfect one. This is not new to us. Performance matters most and many feel that people of color, women, and others have to work harder to prove themselves able and be recognized for our work. Our predecessors felt the
same way and yet pressed forward. Remember Wesley Brown, Vice Admiral Sam Gravely, Harriet Pickens, Frances Wills, Dorie Miller, and the Golden 13. Remember Fred Branch, LtGen Frank Petersen, the Montford Point Marines. Remember CAPT Bobbie Wilks, Dr. Olivia
Hooker, and the lifesavers of Pea Island. Remember all these heroes and the many more who have stood the watch in spite of what was happening at the time. They fought in their day so we could continue the good fight in ours.
In service to our nation, we entrust our lives to one another each and every day. As the foundation of our service is trust, we must be clear that injustice destroys these bonds of trust. At the same time, our actions must demonstrate that we uphold our most solemn responsibilities to our shipmates and the nation.
I thank you all for your service to our nation and the many sacrifices that you and your family have made for our country. Please let me know your thoughts, your opinions, and hear your voices.
Thank you and God bless.
Sinclair M Harris
Rear Admiral United States Navy (Retired)
President, National Naval Officers Association (NNOA)