Sexual assault and extremism will not be tolerated in the Defense Department, and steps are being taken to ensure that, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today at a Pentagon press briefing.
“I take this issue of sexual assault very, very seriously. And I know that the service chiefs and the service secretaries do as well though,” Austin said.
The collection of the data on sexual assault and harassment is just a first step, he added. The department will look into what’s work[ed] to prevent this and what hasn’t and what additional measures need to be taken to ensure a safe, secure and productive environment for all personnel.
“I think any other approach is, in my view, irresponsible. We’ve been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right. In my commitment to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and dependents, we’re going to do everything in our power to get it right,” he said.
Extremism tears at the very fabric of unit cohesion, Austin said.
“It’s important for us to be able to trust the men and women on our left and right,” he said.
Austin mentioned that a few weeks ago he asked the services to conduct a one-day stand-down and gave them 60 days to provide a top-to-bottom review of extremism. “As I conduct that stand-down, I’ve encouraged [leaders] to have a dialogue with their troops about our values, about the oath of office they took when they came into the service, and about who we are and what we’re about,” he said.
“This is also a time for us to educate leaders in terms of understanding those signs and symptoms that can indicate that we could be developing an issue within our ranks,” he added.
Austin mentioned he believes that 99.9% of service members believe in that oath, embrace core values, and are committed to doing the right things.