WASHINGTON — Months before Republicans began protesting the Navy’s decision to tap an active-duty drag queen to serve as a “digital ambassador” to attract a diverse workforce, the service reportedly denied the existence of the recruitment outreach program during a March call with the House Armed Services Committee, The Post has exclusively learned.
Though the program had run from October to March and featured drag performer Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley as one of five “digital ambassadors,” HASC Subcommittee on Military Personnel Chairman Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) told The Post that a Navy briefer said the program “did not exist.”
“We are facing a historic recruitment crisis and instead of focusing efforts on strengthening our force, the Biden administration is forcing wokeness on our service members,” Banks said.
“Navy leadership knew this was a ridiculous and embarrassing stunt, and that is why they initially denied involvement with the program.”
Now, after Kelley’s pro-Navy outreach efforts on Instagram and TikTok made headlines last week, Banks and fellow subcommittee member Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) are asking Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to find out why lawmakers were misled.
In a letter Tuesday, the two gave Austin until May 23 to respond to a dozen requests related to the Navy program and provide an “explanation why DoD previously informed HASC that a digital ambassador program did not exist when in fact it did.”
The two also asked Austin to provide a list of all DoD officials who helped pick Kelley — whose drag name is “Harpy Daniels” — to serve as one of five digital ambassadors in the program, as well as those who authorized him to previously perform in drag for fellow troops aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
They are also seeking the names of the other four digital ambassadors, as well as any other “officially sanctioned influencers throughout all the military services.”
“It now appears that not only did the Navy engage in this misguided effort, but it incomprehensibly believed that this woke campaign should become the defining face of the service,” Banks and Alford wrote in the letter.
“While the Navy previously dismissed the existence of the ambassador program, a US Navy spokesman recently embraced the effort in responding to the backlash.”
The two were referring to a Newsweek report last week in which an unnamed Navy spokesperson defended Kelley’s participation in the program, saying, “Much like the country we serve, our Navy is stronger when we draw upon our diverse resources, skills, capabilities and talents.
“We remain committed to an inclusive environment.”
The Post has not been able to independently verify their account of the Navy briefing.
It is unclear whether the briefer intentionally misled lawmakers, was uninformed of the program or misspoke.
For its part, the service has been open in the past about the digital ambassador program. The Office of the Navy Chief of Information announced in January 2022 it would add digital engagement to its existing Community Ambassador Program and wanted to add individuals “who have access to audiences comprised of young women and communities of color” to its ranks.
The lawmakers also criticized the Navy for selecting Kelley for the program, arguing that “perception is driving reality, and both current and former service members are alarmed at ‘a culture putting ‘wokeness’ before training and combat effectiveness.’”
“Fringe ideologies and drag shows have no place in our military. Rather, the military should be focused on deterring adversaries and remaining a lethal force to defend the nation,” they wrote.
“Promoting drag shows does nothing to enhance military readiness and war-fighting capabilities.”
To that end, the lawmakers also asked Austin to provide “any data, studies, communications and documentation relating to the effect, statistical results and costs of drag shows and other ‘woke’ initiatives on military recruitment and readiness.”
Banks and Alford also requested “any DoD instructions … that govern performing in or authorizing drag shows” and “any ruled and regulations for service members engaging in such activity while actively serving in the armed forces.”
“As a Navy veteran, I am committed to exposing and rooting out wokeness in our military,” Banks told The Post.
The Navy was unable to provide a statement by press time Tuesday.
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