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Task Force Finds No Widespread Extremist Activities

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 1996 – A threemonth Army investigation concluded there is no widespread or organized extremist activities in the Army. Still, Army officials said they are taking steps to revise current regulations that govern involvement in extremist organizations.

Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. said the Army will expand its current equal opportunity program to include training against extremism. He also ordered comprehensive guidelines governing quality of life initiatives specifically on single soldiers living in military dormitories.

In December, Defense Secretary William J. Perry ordered the Army to conduct the extremism study following the murders of two AfricanAmerican Fayetteville, N.C., residents. Local authorities charged three soldiers at nearby Fort Bragg with the crime. Police found neoNazi materials and other extremist literature in a trailer the three soldiers rented near Fort Bragg. Authorities charged Pfc. James Burmeister and Pfc. Malcolm Wright with murder. They charged a third soldier, Spc. Randy Meadows, with conspiracy.

Perry, in a written statement, said reviews by the other services reach the same conclusion. "DoD policy leaves no room for racist and extremist activities in the military," he said. "We must and we shall make every effort to erase bigotry, racism and extremism from the military. Extremist activity compromises fairness, good order and discipline, and, potentially, combat effectiveness. The armed forces, which defend the nation and its values, must exemplify those values beyond question."

During the investigation, the Army task force visited 28 installations and interviewed over 7,500 soldiers in the United States, Germany and Korea. In those visits, West said, the task force found less than 1 percent reported seeing soldiers or civilian employees involved with extremist groups.

While the task force traveled, the Army Research Institute surveyed over 17,000 soldiers about extremist activities. The survey contained 94 questions covering extremism, human relations, values, equal opportunity training and sexual harassment. Of those surveyed, 3.5 percent reported being approached to join extremist groups.

"This tells us that the Army is composed of soldiers who reflect the American belief that extremism is unacceptable in our society and in the Army," said West. "It also recognizes the continuing challenge posed by even a minimal number of individuals who hold extremist views which are contrary to good order and discipline."

West attributed those low numbers to a number of reasons. "Our soldiers are simply not good targets," he said. "Inoculated with the values of America and believing in what they defend, they are simply not easy prey."

Another reason West gave was a lack of time by soldiers to involve themselves in extremist groups. "It may be that our soldiers are simply too busy," said West. "They train every day they have important jobs to do. Most of our soldiers simply don't have the time to go disaffected and go seeking a family outside the Army."

Finally, West said soldiers aren't around an area long enough for groups to want their services. He said the Army rotates their soldiers every two or three years not enough time for groups to establish consistent memberships.

West said some soldiers aren't clear on the Army's attitude toward extremism specifically toward passive membership vs. active involvement. He said existing training programs do not adequately address extremism.

To help refine Army guidelines, West ordered Army officials to clarify existing regulations about extremist activities. He asked Edwin Dorn, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, for support in reviewing Army regulations and training to ensure they conform to DoD directives. "We simply cannot have our soldiers out there clear on their values and unclear on Army values," said West. "That is unacceptable."

While the Army updates its regulations and training, it also faces a dilemma in its quality of life initiatives toward single service members, West said. Recent years have seen Army barracks life change from regimented billets to relaxed, dormitory accommodations. Courtesy visits replaced barracks inspections and service members come and go as they please once they complete their duty day.

West expressed concern the effort to improve single soldier conditions is restricting unit leaders from maintaining order. "Our NCOs and our company commanders feel there is some different signal from us in the leadership as to whether they are expected and have the authority to find out where their soldiers are."

West said those unitlevel leaders are there to help guide their soldiers and need to do so to maintain morale and unit cohesiveness. "Many of our soldiers are young and new to responsibility, and expect a structured life," he said. "If we, in the Army, are sending signals that is not expected or that we won't support those leaders, then we need to correct it."

This includes maintaining good order. "Our NCOs and company grade officers have the authority and the ability right now to deal with much of this," said West. He said if leaders see a display calculated to disrupt their unit's ability to operate such as Nazi regalia they have the authority to take it down and discipline soldiers sponsoring it.

West said he would also like to keep extremists from joining military service. "We need to look and see how well we are screening, and, if screening is possible, screen for extremists upon entry onto active duty," he said. West said he also approached Dorn for assistance in reviewing enlistment policies.

"I would say that if there's a lesson or message to draw from all this, it is that our soldiers are relatively untouched by extremist," said West, "but that we are on guard not to relax. I am willing to accept the warning that we need to continually reassess ourselves."

Maj. Gen. Larry R. Jordan, the Army's deputy inspector general, led the task force. Members included Karen S. Heath, Navy deputy assistant secretary for military manpower and reserve affairs; John P. McLaurin III, Army deputy assistant secretary for military personnel management and equal opportunity policy; Brig. Gen. Daniel Doherty, commander, Army Criminal Investigation Command and Sergeant Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney.

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