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General Mark Milley ’80 speaks at the 2019 commissioning ceremony for graduating Princeton ROTC Cadets. Milley is an alumnus of the program.
Courtesy of the Office of Communications

General Mark Milley ’80, the United States military’s highest-ranking officer, has issued an apology for appearing in his combat uniform in a June 1 photo-op with President Donald Trump. Police forcefully dispersed peaceful protestors before Trump, Milley, and other aides walked from the White House to St. John’s Church on June 1.

According to Milley, who serves as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his participation was a “mistake” that “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

Images of Milley alongside Trump on the President’s walk to St. John’s Church — where he posed holding a bible — sparked criticism from both former senior military officials and lawmakers. Such critics believed that the military, traditionally an apolitical entity, should not partake in political acts. 

“I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it,” Milley said in a pre-recorded speech to graduates from the National Defense University. 

The former Princeton ROTC cadet considered resigning from his position as a result of the backlash caused by his participation in the photo-op with Trump, NBC news reported last week.  

Defense officials told CNN that Milley lobbied Trump against the use of active duty troops to respond to the protests following Floyd’s killing. He instead suggested that it should be left to local law enforcement, with the support of the National Guard when necessary.  

“We never introduced federal troops on the streets of America as a result of the combined efforts of the Guard and law enforcement at quelling the violence and de-escalating very, very tense situations,” Milley said in his pre-recorded speech.

Milley added that he was “outraged” by the killing of George Floyd and understood the protests to be the result of “centuries of injustice toward African Americans.” He also addressed the racial inequality in the military.

“While the military sets an example for civil society through our inclusiveness, we too have not come far enough. We all need to do better. For example, although the United States military has a higher proportion of African Americans serving in our ranks than in society at large, only 7 percent of our flag and general officers are African American,” he said, adding that “we must, we can, and we will do better.”

President Donald Trump responded to Milley’s apology in an interview with Fox News, saying that he was “fine” with the statement but still defended his own actions that day. 

“I think it was a beautiful picture, and I’ll tell you, I think Christians think it was a beautiful picture,” Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence has also responded to Milley’s speech. 

“I have great respect for General Milley. He’s leading our Joint Chiefs of Staff with great distinction. I respect his ability to speak for himself about his presence there,” Pence said.

Pence did not respond to a question about whether or not he agreed with Milley that his presence at the photo-op was a mistake.

“I’ll leave General Milley to his own judgment in that regard,” he said.

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