Coast Guard Commandant Appears on CNN Newsroom

Admiral Allen appeared on CNN Newsroom today before heading up to the Academy to chew out the cadets. Here’s the transcript.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The man in charge of the Coast Guard tells me he’s disappointed. Knowing him as I do, that’s a bit of an understatement. He’s Admiral Thad Allen, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, and he joins me now live from Washington, D.C.

Admiral, thanks for being with me.


PHILLIPS: I want to go back to that e-mail that you sent out to the entire U.S. Coast Guard. We heard a little bit about it in the piece that I just did to set you up, but you made it very clear that this is behavior that you are not going to tolerate at all.

Tell me what you’re going to say to the cadets today as you travel to the academy.

ALLEN: Well, Kyra, the events that occurred are absolutely against our core values, as you stated. But they’re very inconsistent with the mission of the Coast Guard, a real humanitarian service. We save people’s lives.
We have to watch out for each other when we’re doing rescue operations and the country expects that we’re going to perform to a high level. You cannot do that when you create these types of environments, and I won’t tolerate it and I don’t expect my people to either.

PHILLIPS: So tell me what the Coast Guard is doing right now about this criminal investigation into these two incidents involving nooses.

ALLEN: Well, Kyra, at the time of the incidents, we did what was called an admin investigation or a preliminary inquiry. That didn’t produce any results. So now we have a criminal investigation under way, and currently there are 13 agents at the Coast Guard Academy conducting interviews.

PHILLIPS: All right. Admiral, stay with me. We’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to continue this interview.

PHILLIPS: I’m going to continue my interview now. We’re talking about hate symbols, unspoken threats, and where these threats are being made.

Two nooses, two hateful messages sent to a Coast Guard cadet and a civil rights officer at the Coast Guard Academy.

Joining us again live, Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard commandant.

Sir, we talked about the fact that you are headed to the academy to address cadets today, that you will not tolerate this kind of behavior.

We discussed the Coast Guard’s criminal investigation.

Now I want to ask you about these two incidents. Has this ever happened before at the U.S. Coast Guard?

ALLEN: Well, Kyra, I’ve asked our civil rights office to take a look at recent reports around the Coast Guard, and last year we had two incidents where nooses were found at workplaces, but there was no activity directed at an individual. There was immediate action taken by the commands. In one case, the noose was actually a result of a knot-tying training event for our people and they were counseled.

PHILLIPS: Well, you bring up a very interesting point, too, and this was new to me. I had no idea that the Coast Guard had a civil rights director. I had no idea that you had civil rights officers.

Tell me about Terri Dickerson. I understand she’s your director of civil rights. She’s going with you to the academy. She’s a black female.

Why do you have this position, and why does she direct — report directly to you?

ALLEN: Well, Kyra, we’ve had a director of civil rights in the Coast Guard for many years. We have a headquarters staff of 21 and we have 27 permanently assigned people in the field to assist our commanding officers in dealing with human relations complaints and provide them advice.

Terri Dickeron is a senior executive in government, reports directly to me, one of only a handful of people in headquarters that does that. And again, this underscores our commitment to make sure that we have workplaces free of a hostile environment.

PHILLIPS: And talk to me about the serious nature of these incidents, how it’s impacted your men and women, your men and women of color, and how it’s impacted your organization.

ALLEN: Well, this is a demoralizing event to the entire service, and especially to people of color. They need to be able to work in an environment that’s free of hostility and be able to work as a team in the Coast Guard.

PHILLIPS: When you find — and notice I say “when you find” — the person or persons responsible for these actions, how will they be held accountable? And if they are found guilty of a hate crime, could that take it to an entirely different level?

ALLEN: Well, Kyra, when cadets enter the Coast Guard Academy, they take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, like all our people in the Coast Guard do, and they are held to the same standard of conduct that active duty Coast Guard officers are held to.

And quite frankly, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, this is conduct unbecoming an officer.

PHILLIPS: Is this something that could get an individual or individuals kicked out of the U.S. Coast Guard?

ALLEN: Well, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is a separate justice system that applies to military members, it actually exerts a higher standard of conduct for those who serve the country.

There’s a range of options from administrative measures at the local level, clear up including a court-martial.

PHILLIPS: A court-martial, so it can go that far.

Let me ask you this, too, Admiral. For blacks, Hispanics, American-Indians, anyone of color who is thinking about joining the Coast Guard or they are in the Coast Guard right now, should they fear for their safety?

ALLEN: I don’t think this is a matter of physical safety, Kyra. This is a matter of a hostile work environment that we have to get rid of.

PHILLIPS: Why is diversity important to you? Why is this a personal mission for you, not just a professional one?

ALLEN: Well, anybody who serves this country serves one of the most diverse countries in the world. The people we serve need to see a Coast Guard that looks like them and we need to understand the cultural differences and be sensitive to the fact that the people we’re saving out there come from very different walks of life.

PHILLIPS: Final question. You and your director of civil rights, Terri Dickerson, headed to the academy right now to speak to cadets. How will the two of you address them? Your mission, what you’re going to say, and her mission.

ALLEN: Well, we’re going to find out how this happened, and we have a very detailed investigation ongoing, but we need to figure out moving forward how to prevent this in the future and how to create the right work environment for all of our people. Everybody needs to have the promise that when you enter the Coast Guard you’ll be treated equally, fairly, and so we will treat you the same way as the people that we save out there.

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