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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a former Navy lieutenant who served in Iraq, vowed during a campaign swing through South Carolina to start “ripping all the woke out of the military” should he win his 2024 White House bid.
DeSantis, speaking Tuesday in Columbia, S.C., revealed his five-point “Mission First” plan to root progressive politics out of the armed forces. The Pentagon, under President Joe Biden, has been heavily criticized by conservatives for its promotion of such beliefs as radical environmentalism, transgender ideology, and critical race theory, as well as imposing the COVID vaccine mandate, and such things as holding drag shows on military bases.
“[The U.S. military] has been infected with the woke mind virus,” said DeSantis, who served as legal adviser to SEAL Team One and also did a stint at Guantanamo Bay during seven years of service that followed his graduation from Harvard Law. “It’s creating a situation in which great warriors have been driven away and recruiting is at an all-time low post the abolition of the draft in the Vietnam conflict.”
DeSantis zeroed in on his old branch’s designation of an active-duty drag queen as one of the faces of its online recruitment efforts as emblematic of the problem. Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, who identifies as non-binary, was named the first of five Navy Digital Ambassadors in a pilot program that ran from October to March.
“When China sees the U.S. Navy using drag queens to recruit people, they are laughing in our face,” DeSantis said. “Our enemies are whetting their appetite. You know why? Because they’re seeing America take its eye off the ball. They’re seeing America pursue other agendas at the expense of our nation’s security agenda. We need a military that is focused on being lethal, being ready, and being capable.”
DeSantis outlined the most pressing issues he would tackle.
“First, we’re going to recognize this military has made mistakes in recent years,” DeSantis said, referring, to the vaccine mandate that drove thousands of service members to leave the military. If DeSantis becomes their commander-in-chief, he will return them to their jobs with back pay, he vowed.
Secondly, DeSantis said the military must stop putting social and environmental objectives above its core mission.
“Lethality, readiness, and capabilities must trump political agendas like the Green New Deal,” DeSantis said, referencing the push for electric vehicles that critics say comes at the expense of fighting ability.
And, in an echo of his efforts in Florida, where he has frequently proclaimed “woke goes to die,” DeSantis said he would purge the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy from the Pentagon.
“We need to end social experimentation and woke ideology in the military,” DeSantis said. “You, by definition, are sacrificing some of your individuality to be able to join, because it’s what the unit needs that is most important. What DEI is telling people to do is to elevate our differences, elevate different ethnicities, gender, race … balkanize people and put them into different groups.”
“Warfighting must trump identity politics,” he continued. “Spend more money replenishing our ammo stocks than you do on DEI bureaucrats.”
DeSantis said he would abolish drag shows at military bases, adding, “We’re also not going to do gender ideology and transgenderism in the military.”
He took aim at curricula in the military academies that were devoted to a political agenda, such as critical race theory and said merit, not identity politics, should determine promotions.
“Don’t water down the standards for political reasons,” he said.
Finally, DeSantis focused on bolstering recruitment, which has fallen into deep decline. Speaking a day earlier in Tega Cay, S.C., DeSantis said he has heard from veterans who tell him they are hesitant to see their children or grandchildren sign up for the modern military.
“Why?” he asked rhetorically. “Because they’re taking their eye off the mission and they’re focusing on things like social experimentation, ideology, woke agenda, pronouns, drag queens in our own military.”
That will change if he takes charge in 2024, DeSantis pledged.
“Rest assured, the agenda in a nutshell is this: On January 25, 2025, as Commander-In-Chief, I’m ripping all the woke out of the military and I’m getting focused on mission accomplishment,” he said. “We need morale to go up; we need recruiting to rebound; we need to make this something that people want to join again.”