WASHINGTON – General David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force and the highest ranking Jewish officer in the American military said on Tuesday that "every American should be outraged" by the police murder of George Floyd, calling it a "national tragedy."
Goldfein, who was appointed Chief of Staff by former President Barack Obama, distributed his public memo to commanders at all ranks of the Air Force. He wrote in it that “We all wish it were not possible for racism to occur in America. But it does, and we are at a moment when we must confront what is.”
"What happens on America’s streets is also resident in our Air Force," he acknowledged. "Sometimes it’s explicit, sometimes it’s subtle, but we are not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination and unconscious bias. We will not shy away from this; we will do our own part and confront it head on.”
The chief commander added: “Let’s start the conversation by acknowledging we have many valued Airmen who live and work for One Nation Under God, Indivisible, but for them, without liberty and justice for all.”
Goldfein ended the memo by saying that he will hold a “Facebook town hall” on the subject of racism in the Air Force later this week.
Last year, several news outlets in the U.S. reported that former Secretary of Defense, retired Marines General James Mattis, was leaning towards choosing Goldfein to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking officer in the entire military. President Donald Trump, however, chose General Mark Milley for the job, against Mattis’ recommendation.
Goldfein’s reaction to Floyd’s death and his acknowledgement of racism within the ranks of the military is very different than Miley’s conduct over the past few days. Most notably, his role in Monday night’s use of military force outside the White House against non-violent protesters in order to make a clear path for Trump to film a campaign video of himself walking to a church.
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Goldfein started in the Air Force as an F-16 combat pilot and participated in operations in Iraq and Serbia. He has worked extensively with senior Israeli officers over they yeas, and he visited Israel in November 2019 to attend a joint U.S.-Israeli drill.
The memo he published on Tuesday was accompanied by a six minute video showing Goldfein in conversation with the Chief Master Sergant of the Air Force, Kaleth Wright, who is African-American. Goldfein says in the video that he was “shocked” and “saddened” by the events of the past days in America, but added that he told his wife after watching news coverage - “we probably don’t completely understand it.” He added that the current crisis has created “a big opportunity” to improve the conversation on race issues in the military.
“We need to stop walking by the problem,” Goldfein said in the video. Wright said that “these conversations are difficult, they’re tough but they are necessary.”
Separately on Tuesday, retired General Michael Mullen, the previous Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced the use of the military by the Trump administration to create a path for Trump to walk from the White House to a nearby church, by forcibly removing protesters from a public square along the way.
“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel — including members of the National Guard — forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church,” Mullen wrote in an article in The Atlantic.
“I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent,” he added.
Mullen also wrote that “Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces. There was little good in the stunt.”