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Defense bill opens door to erasing Confederate names at the Naval Academy, and more for Maryland military posts

The Naval Academy will likely need to change two building names after the Senate and House passed a massive defense spending bill, which includes a provision examining any names linked to the Confederacy.

The National Defense Authorization Act sets up a commission, with members appointed by Congress and the defense secretary, to review Department of Defense infrastructure to identify any names that might be connected to the Confederacy.

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The commission, within three years, will also identify how much it costs and layout the process to rename the buildings. Any names identified as linked to the Confederacy must be removed within three years.

At the Naval Academy, there are two buildings that will be reviewed by the commission: Maury Hall — named after Confederate sailor Matthew Fontaine Maury— and Buchanan House — named after the academy’s first superintendent Franklin Buchanan who joined the Confederacy.

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The NDAA provision comes after a summer of calls for forts with Confederate-linked names to be renamed. President Donald Trump spoke against renaming the forts, which, in part, led to the Congressional move to add the provision in the act.

Rep. Anthony Brown and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrats who sit on the Naval Academy Board of Visitors, have called for the academy buildings to be renamed. Brown also was among the congressmen who added the provision to the bill.

“There are buildings and streets, bus stops and bridges on defense property that are named after primarily Confederate soldiers,” said Brown, the former lieutenant governor. “But in some cases, events surrounding the Civil War that honor the Confederacy, for example, the USS Chancellorsville, it’s one Naval vessel that will soon be decommissioned that it was named after a Civil War battle in which the Confederacy won. Clearly honoring the Confederacy.”

The three years is a deadline, Brown said. The commission can review, identify and remove names sooner.

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen would welcome a faster timeline.

“I think [...] that they’ll move expeditiously to do this,” Van Hollen said. “And I would strongly urge them to do so.”

With a change in administration in January, one that shifts the presidency to a Democrat, the timeline could move faster, Brown said.

The NDAA will also help streamline the service academy nomination process, at least when it comes to how applicants identify.

There will be a uniform standard portal created that will have a universal classification for demographics, Brown said. Currently, how a student reports their demographics can differ between academies.

The portal also will require the academies to annually report about their application pool, who they offer appointments to and those who accept, Brown said. Members of Congress will also use the portal to enter information about their nominations.

The data will be available publicly, broken down by the academies, he said. It will also be released on a national level so there is more information on how members of Congress nominate applicants.

“I hope that it will be viewed,” Brown said. “And I think [Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck] acknowledged that it would, that it’ll be a good tool, among the many tools to promote diversity and inclusion within our armed forces.”

Other measures

The act will also help provide funding to the family of Lt. Richard Collins, an ROTC student at Bowie State University, who was killed by a University of Maryland student. The NDAA Conference Report had a provision that will grant death benefits to Collins’ family.

“Obviously doesn’t fill the hole from his passing,[...] but it’s designed to address an injustice,” Van Hollen said.

Also in the act is a 3% pay raise for service members, Sen. Ben Cardin said.

“In these times, 3%, I think, is gonna be welcomed by the families,” Cardin said.

There is also $35 million in the act for mold remediation in privatized military housing, Van Hollen said. It is likely that some of this funding will go to Fort George G. Meade, which has had issues with mold in its homes run by Corvias.

Fort Meade will receive $250 million for a Naval Support Activity Washington building, according to the act.

The bill also gives $39.5 million for a Reserve Training Camp for Camp Fretterd in Reisterstown. $9.4 million will go toward a F-16 Training Center at Joint Base Andrews.

The base in Prince George’s County will also get $13 million for a consolidated communication center, Christian Unkenholz, Brown’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

The Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program at the Naval Support Activity South Potomac will also receive $18.5 million, he said.

The Bethesda Naval Hospital will also receive $50 million, according to the act.

The NDAA passed both chambers of Congress with a wide enough margin to be considered veto-proof. However, the act is facing a veto threat from Trump, who wants to veto it due to language included granting social media companies immunity for content posted on their sites.

He has also threatened to veto the act over the inclusion of the commission to rename Confederate-linked buildings, the Wall Street Journal reported.

It is unclear if the president will veto the bill, and if he does, if the chambers of Congress will override it.

It would be “a shame,” if he does veto it, Brown said.

“It’s my hope, and I think there is a good possibility that he won’t because I think, hopefully, calmer heads will prevail in the White House and convince the president that there’s much more at stake than the two things that he’s been now focused on,” Brown said.

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