Senator Who Used to Fly Black Hawks Calls for Answers on Army Helicopter Probe

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In this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Duckworth has given birth to a baby girl, making her the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. The Illinois Democrat announced she delivered her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, on April 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks on Capitol Hill, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Former Army UH-60 Blackhawk pilot and Senate Armed Services Committee member Tammy Duckworth told the Army's top official this week that she wanted to know who is responsible for the use of low-flying helicopters to suppress crowds of protesters in Washington, D.C.

The Democratic senator from Illinois also talked to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy about "the need" to ban the Confederate Battle Flag from all Army installations after the Navy and the Marine Corps made similar moves in the wake of nationwide racial protests that followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while in custody of Minneapolis police.

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"I had a productive call with Secretary McCarthy, where I expressed my deep concern about the use of low-flying military helicopters to suppress crowds of peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights and calling out for justice for Black Americans," Duckworth said in a statement released Tuesday evening.

"I reiterated my call for an investigation into this incident so we can get to the bottom of it and answer the questions: who gave those orders and why?"

Duckworth, a former Army National Guard officer who lost both of her legs after she was shot down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2004, called on the Pentagon as well as the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the reports of the June 1 incident involving Army helicopters flying dangerously low over protesters in D.C.

In particular, she wanted to know whether there were any rotor wash-related injuries to people or property, according to the released statement.

McCarthy told reporters June 7 that the Army is wrapping up a 15-6 investigation of the incident and that he had originally authorized the Guard to use helicopters to "observe and report" on demonstrations after protesters turned violent on March 31, nearly overwhelming police and National Guard troops near the White House and damaging key historic sites in the city.

Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, said at the same news conference that there was no order given to aviators to fly low to disperse the crowds.

Duckworth also discussed her view that Confederate flags should be removed from Army installations.

"Honoring the 'lost cause' of those who waged war against America to defend their right to own, sell and kill Black Americans has no place in our nation, especially the U.S. Armed Forces, which fought a deadly war to eliminate the barbaric practice of slavery," Duckworth said in the statement.

Army leaders are reviewing the new Marine Corps policy that bans Confederate flags and are considering similar action, a defense official told Military.com on June 9.

McCarthy's spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Audricia Harris, told Military.com Wednesday that McCarthy's office has no statement to release at this time on the issues discussed with Duckworth.

Duckworth has called on all active U.S. military forces and the National Guard Bureau to remove all Confederate Battle Flags.

"The U.S. Marine Corps, and now the U.S. Navy, have demonstrated moral leadership in taking action," Duckworth said in the statement. "I hope the Army will not be the last service branch to act."

On Monday, Army Gen. Robert B. "Abe" Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, has barred all troops serving in South Korea from displaying the Confederate flag on bases as well as service members' cars.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: US Forces Korea Bans Display of Confederate Flag on Bases, Vehicles

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