Renaming Military Installations Erases More Than Just History, But Also Identity

We all witness the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent summer riots in the name of social justice that ravaged our cities.

Monuments were graffitied, torn down, and buildings were renamed. No one from history has been exempt from this treatment, including our Founding Fathers. Their contributions to our country have often been whittled down to being ‘enslavers’ and nothing more.

But it’s not just public education, the parks and recreation department, and the homes of Founding Fathers that have seen a makeover. Numerous Army installations and other military buildings are about to get a historic makeover.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has approved recommendations from the Naming Commission established by Congress last year to review military components named for Confederate soldiers. So let’s examine how some of the most famous military installations will change.

Changing The Names of Military Installations

The commission listed nine bases for renaming:

  • Fort Polk, Louisiana, changed to Fort Johnson
  • Fort Benning, Georgia, changed to Fort Moore
  • Fort AP Hill, Virginia, changed to Fort Walker
  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina, changed to Fort Liberty
  • Fort Gordon, Georgia, changed to Fort Eisenhower
  • Fort Hood, Texas, changed to Fort Cavazos
  • Fort Lee, Virginia, changed to Fort Gregg-Adams
  • Fort Pickett, Virginia, changed to Fort Barfoot
  • Fort Rucker, Alabama, changed to Fort Novosel

These changes are set to take effect by at least 2024 and are estimated to cost the Pentagon $62.5 million. Secretary Austin said of the new names:

“The commission has chosen names that echo with honor, patriotism, and history – names that will inspire generations of service members to defend our democracy and our Constitution.”

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A Culture Not Well Understood

I was stationed at Pope Army Air Field in North Carolina. Known as ‘No Hope Pope’ in a tongue-in-cheek way, the often-forgotten Air Force installation is located on Fort Bragg in North Carolina. When I would tell people I was stationed at Pope, usually, I’d get a blank stare or the response, “I thought they closed that base?”

But if I told people I was stationed at an Air Force unit on Bragg, everyone knew what and where I was talking about. That’s because Army installations have a name recognition that transcends time, differences, and even military affiliation.

Bragg is the home of the 82nd Airborne and Army Special Forces. The 82nd calls Bragg home, and they jump out of perfectly good aircraft to rain freedom down on our enemies and provide aid to our friends.

The same can be said of Fort Gordon, known as the home of the Signal Corps, and Polk, where the best our nation has to offer go to get combat trained before taking the fight to the bad guys overseas. What point am I trying to make, you might ask?

Most who wear the uniform don’t associate these locations with the Confederacy; they associate them with the excellent work that the men and women who live, train, and work at these installations execute.

The connection transcends generations as well; an old Airborne veteran can instantly relate to a Gen-Z Airborne soldier once they utter the word Bragg.

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Misplaced Priorities

However, you could argue that at least one of these installations is well known for less-than-patriotic history and that it has nothing to do with the Confederacy.

Suppose you mention Fort Hood to anyone who has served in the last few years. In that case, you’ll often hear more about the rampant sexual abuse and violence that has plagued the installation versus its cavalry past.

Former home of Vanessa Guillen, who was found murdered, and investigations revealed she had been a victim of sexual assault that her leadership ignored, many would argue that a name change won’t be enough to fix what ails that installation.

Secretary Austin rightly explained:

“The installations and facilities that our Department operates are more than vital National Security assets. They are also powerful public symbols of our military, and of course, they are the places where our service members and their families work and live.”

Pope was known as No Hope Pope mainly due to the dilapidated state of Fort Bragg, where the unit was housed. Grass grew over your knees, rodents often retained residency in office buildings, the daycare centers were plagued with controversy, and the dorms were structurally unstable.

Seriously I know; I had an Airman have the ceiling in their dorm room cave in on them three times. Perhaps that $62.5 million would be better spent making the places where our service members and families work and live…you know…workable and livable.

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Goodbye Lee?

This same commission also recommended removing depictions of Robert E. Lee from West Point, who was the academy’s Superintendent before the Civil War. He’s most famously known as the General who went toe to toe with General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War.

The report from the commission said their recommendations:

“The commissioners do not make these recommendations with any intention of ‘erasing history.’”

Interestingly, General Lee was not a fan of erecting monuments to the Confederacy post-war. He believed that it would be easier for the nation to heal. While, like many men in that era, he was a slave owner, he thought it was a moral and political sin and celebrated the abolition of slavery.

The report went on to state:

“The facts of the past remain and the commissioners are confident the history of the Civil War will continue to be taught at all service academics with all the quality and complex detail our national past deserves.”

Now West Point cadets are learning about “whiteness” and “race privilege” – is that what the commission meant when they referred to quality and complex detail?

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Lessons Left To Learn

The rub with history is that it is both enlightening and complicated. And we seem to be always doomed to repeat it.

General Lee once said:

“What a cruel thing war is…to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.”

Will changing the names of these installations make us hate each other less? I don’t think so.

The new names are reasonable, no doubt. Fort Polk, soon to be named Fort Johnson, will be named after Sgt. William Johnson, a black Medal of Honor recipient hero from World War I. Fort Benning, soon to be called Fort Moore, will be named for Lt. General Hal Moore, the famous cavalry officer from “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” which became the popular movie We Were Soldiers.

And Fort AP Hill, soon to be Fort Walker, is named after Dr. Mary Walker, the only female Medal of Honor recipient and former Civil War Prisoner of War. Heroes, each of them worthy of such an honor.

I just wish we would focus on honoring the men and women serving now with livable housing, adequate medical care, deserving salaries, and relevant training to help them win our future wars.

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