Jason Beardsley served his country in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Special Forces before taking the helm as executive director of the Association of the United States Navy. Today, he’s speaking out to urge military leaders to focus on their primary mission of defending America—not advancing the left’s woke agenda.

Beardsley recently wrote a commentary for The Daily Signal about the challenges of readiness and morale in the U.S. Navy. “Wokeness is well on its way to poisoning our military, even as it claims the military is moving toward utopia,” Beardsley says.

He tells The Daily Signal that his own military experience taught him radical ideas like critical race theory have no place in our armed forces.

“In a firefight,” Beardsley says, “the one question that never occurred to me was, ‘Do I have enough black guys on the guns down behind me?’ Or, ‘Do I have enough Puerto Ricans on this side?’ Nobody cares. We want talented service members who honor the flag and respect the heritage of this country.”

Following his military service, Beardsley co-founded and was CEO of a patriotic clothing company called The Underground Movement. He tells The Daily Signal about his love of America and the work he’s doing at the Association of the United States Navy. Listen to the interview or read a lightly edited transcript below.

Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a brand new patriotic song written and produced by a high school teacher.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. And check out the video below.

Rob Bluey: We are joined at The Daily Signal today by Jason Beardsley. He’s the executive director at the Association of the United States Navy. Jason, thanks so much for being with us.

Jason Beardsley: Oh, thank you, Rob, for having me. This is a great privilege.

Bluey: Well, we appreciate your military service and the work you’re doing now to support the military community. Before we get into any of the policy issues, I wanted you to share with our listeners about your experience, both with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Special Forces. You’ve served overseas, you’ve fought in the war on terror.

Tell us about that experience. What first led you to the military and some of the moments in your career there?

Beardsley: Oh, thanks for asking. I love this country. I love America. And even when I was a young child, I knew service was … my calling. So I wanted to go into the Navy. I had the idea of becoming a SEAL, loved the idea of operations and special operations. But unfortunately, I had some injuries, went out to the fleet. So I experienced Persian Gulf as a sailor aboard a vessel, learned a lot there, a ton.

And then the conclusion of my Navy service, I guess I was a glutton for punishment and decided to go back for more in the Army, where I found my community in the Green Berets—trained for that, selected, met some of the greatest, really, heroes in this country, sort of anthology. And I loved it, I love the work.

We deployed a lot after 9/11 and began to chase some different fights overseas. So we lost a lot of friends, but I learned a lot along the way and served with the best of the best and concluded my service in 2013 from that part of the career.

Bluey: Was there a particular moment that stands out in your mind in your service? Something that helped shape your life?

Beardsley: There’s so many, so that’s a pretty broad question.

Bluey: OK.

Beardsley: But I think one of the experiences that challenges us, especially when you’ve been to combat is, we’ll call it the near-death or the unknown behind the door. And what ends up happening, at least for me, is you really become humbled when you suddenly recognize that the controls are out of your hands, you have no wherewithal or protection to continue your own life. And it really causes you to pause and reflect.

In those moments, what I learned and what really happens is I’ve reconciled that you really have to know your morality and your ethic before you get into those situations. Once you’re there, it happens too fast. And you have to be ready to leave it all on the line, leave it behind you. And when you can do that, it allows you to process the moment and move forward into what is a near-death or potentially violent confrontation.

Doing that puts everything in your life in perspective. Your wife, my children—I have three daughters. So that was probably more than anything a humbling but also “come to reconciliation” type of moment.

Bluey: Well, thank you again for your service.

Beardsley: Yeah.

Bluey: We are grateful for it here at The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation. You’re now executive director at the Association of the United States Navy. Tell us about some of the things you hear about from members of the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Marines in your new role.

Beardsley: First and foremost, service members are proud of their service. They love being affiliated with the greatest brands in our history, really, worldwide. The U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard are foundational to this country. So they’re excited about that, and they want to remind themselves and others about that service.

Secondly, we see them very interested in the cause of, how do we defend America? How do we make it great? How do we continue the strength of it? So they’re interested in policies. But at the core root of this, they just love the experience they shared in the brotherhood.

So I’m honored to take that role. And it’s been exciting. It’s been a fast four or five months now, … six, I think we’re going into.

Bluey: That’s great. Well, congratulations on the new role.

Beardsley: Thank you.

Bluey: Just recently, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made some comments on critical race theory that generated some headlines that weren’t necessarily flattering for the military. You have also spoken out on these issues.

What is it that you are telling people, other people who have either served in the military or who are currently serving, as they confront some of these big issues? And not only our elected leaders, but some of the officials in military roles are having to confront them.

Beardsley: Yeah, what we are telling folks, which I believe this to be the case, is, our voice as the constituent is important. And it makes an impact on political leaders, military leaders.

So in areas where we have questions or concerns, whether the constituency, the military is a branch that has civilian oversight, it’s entirely appropriate for folks to weigh in with their voice, whether that’s to their congressmen or senators or the administrative officials.

An association like the Association of the United States Navy, we’re supposed to provide a facilitation for that voice. And that’s what we’re trying to do, is make sure that how you feel is communicated to the people who will make those actual decisions.

Bluey: Well, you’ve certainly been getting your voice out there. Thank you for the piece you wrote for The Daily Signal in which you talked about the challenges of military readiness and morale, particularly in the U.S. Navy.

At the same time, you have those big challenges, and yet the military leaders are talking about wokeism and some of these other topics that I think some of us are left scratching our heads as why they’re necessarily standing out as priorities for our leaders.

Beardsley: Right.

Bluey: Tell us a little bit more about what you’re hearing and why you decided to write that article.

Beardsley: We’re writing the articles because we hear one thing and we see another in policy or writing, and we’re trying to square the two.

We’ve heard from top Navy leaders—Adm. [Michael] Gilday, acting Secretary [Thomas] Harker, and others—they want more ships. We have a proposition to fight China; pacing our near-peer rivals, Iran. And everybody suggested that the way to do that is to increase the force and make sure we can cover our operational tempo—South Pacific, Indo-Pacific, all the regions.

So they said we need 355 ships, or that’s a great goal to have. Meanwhile, in policy, we’re stating that we’re going to reduce the ships. The Biden budget asked to reduce by eight. And they’ve suggested that the number 355 is not that important, it could be as low as 321.

So we’re moving in the opposite direction. The budgets take us in the opposite direction. But what we hear from Navy leaders, the folks that are actually commanding sailors in service now, is that if we’re going to keep up with China, that’s a need that we actually have to solve. And we haven’t done that yet.

Bluey: Well, it certainly is. And one of the things that The Heritage Foundation, the parent of The Daily Signal, does is produce every year the Index of U.S. Military Strength. And that index rates the Navy as marginal, trending toward weak on some of these areas.

Beardsley: Right.

Bluey: … What needs to happen to get our elected leaders and other officials who are in a position where they can actually make some of these changes that you’re talking about, taking them seriously and making sure that maybe these cuts that the Biden budget proposes aren’t necessarily inactive?

Beardsley: Well, the frank answer is, they’re going to need to hear from constituents.

In June, early June, June 4, I think, the Navy released a memorandum looking at the priorities. And on the priorities list were, no surprise, submarines, jets, and vessel ships. But they said, “We can’t do all three of those, so we’re going to only do one of those, we’re not sure which. A jet, a submarine, or a ship.” And later in the memo, in the same memo, they’re suggesting that our real critical priorities are diversion, inclusion, and equity.

So what we’re seeing is, while on the one hand we know that material defense of the nation is valuable and important and they’re telling us that, then they’re telling us that our critical priorities are actually something like the social engineering and the social needs to go in and police the military. So these are two different messages.

And the real reason that we, the Association of the United States Navy, are writing this is, people, if they don’t know this, they won’t say anything. So we’re asking them, “Come in, communicate. If you like this, tell us. If you don’t like this, tell us. We’ll communicate that to the leaders.”

Bluey: You mentioned some of our adversaries, China, Iran. I’d throw Russia into that list. How do you think they perceive some of these debates that we’re having in our country? And when they look at things like the Biden budget proposal and they see some of the challenges that our military is having, what do you think is going through their minds?

Beardsley: I think they’re in an enviable position, to be frank. If China, who now is approaching 360 ships, knows that we have a goal of 355 and we’re at about 296, looking to move down from that number, if you’re China, you see a vacuum, you see an open field.

But more importantly, if what you see are our priorities are things that are challenging morale inside the service now—and that’s when troops are not sure what the rules are or what makes them promotable, or what the leaders are policing inside the service. That reduces morale, and morale is a direct support for combat readiness, combat effectiveness. So if you’re an enemy, if you’re a near-peer rival, if you’re Russia, if you’re China, I suggest they might be pretty happy about that.

Bluey: Let’s talk more about morale, because that was one of the topics that you covered in your Daily Signal piece. … What are some of the drivers for that? Is that a new challenge for the Navy in particular, or is it something that you experienced when you were serving?

Beardsley: Morale, it’s a constant challenge, No. 1. And it is the big driver. I go into the service and it’s because I’m excited to serve. While my service is good and I’m enjoying it and the leaders are quality leaders, you’re not going anywhere. So retention, do I sign up for a second hitch? Do I go back?

But when you start to get a reduction in morale, your back-to-back deployments, you’re burned out. You’re leaving your families. There’s no real particular purpose to the mission. You’re burying your friends. You’re seeing the loss of life on the battlefield and you come back constantly, you don’t know why. And your leaders are vague or ambiguous about it, then … one has to reconcile this, what are we doing?

And this leads to a low retention, low recruitment, and also problems in the force. We’ve seen Navy vessels colliding with other vessels. … Our military has said our junior deck officers are not getting enough time driving the ships. And we just had a report that said sailors aren’t getting enough sleep, and that our OPTEMPO was too high.

All of that leads to a reduction in morale. That’s why we’re concerned [about] the Navy focus, and the military, on strength and combat effectiveness and morale.

Bluey: Jason, thank you so much for sharing those with us. I want to shift topics. When you left the military, … you made the choice to be outspoken about your love of America, your patriotism. And you embarked on creating an apparel company in which you produce clothing with those messages. Tell us about that experience and why it was so important for you to exercise your free speech to take those steps.

Beardsley: Thank you for that question. I’ve gone overseas and we’ve had the fight, and I know that when we’re in the front of policy, doing everything we can to secure freedoms and liberties for people abroad, and then we come home and see that our freedoms, our liberties are eroding. And part of that reason is our memory.

What we remember to be great, how we look at our heroes and what we see as the greatness of America, when that starts to get challenged and when that erodes, that’s a loss of morale for the American republic.

So my intent was, if that’s missing and people have forgotten how to look at our heroes in anything other than disdain, then we need to begin to paint some of the real reasons why they were great, why the legacies of America mean something more than just systemic racism. There’s a lot more to it.

So we want to tell those stories. I chose the marketplace, and it’s another form of warfare and it’s brutal. We had a great time. We built an incredible product and people loved it, because they needed to hear something that was resonant or concordant with how they felt, which is, America’s the greatest country in the history of the world.

Bluey: I think it’s especially true today at a time when so many Americans would prefer that these hot-button social issues that the corporations seem to be weighing in on tend to be dominating all aspects of their life.

Beardsley: Right.

Bluey: They just want to get back to those core values that they cherish about America.

Beardsley: They do. And when I served in these different places, nobody cared. You served black, white, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Jewish, all different types. I had openly gay service members in the early ’90s before it was authorized, so to speak, and nobody cared. They were good workers and talented. And as long as that was the case, that’s all that mattered.

In a firefight, the one question that never occurred to me was, “Do I have enough black guys on the guns down behind me?” Or, “Do I have enough Puerto Ricans on this side?” Nobody cares. We want talented service members who honor the flag and respect the heritage of this country.

Bluey: We’re doing this interview right around Independence Day.

Beardsley: Yeah.

Bluey: And it’s a special time of year for me and my family and teaching my own children about the importance of America and our history. What does that day mean to you?

Beardsley: So much. The story to get there, I think, is most important as we are here now. It’s not easy, it takes effort and constant energy and application. We had a group of people that were willing to do it then. And the real question is, will we continue that every year will?

We reestablish the foundational principles of independence, which, at its perfection, allows for all of us to live fairly and equally. But we never said we were perfect. In fact, we said we wanted a more perfect union. So getting to that is what independence is all about.

Bluey: That’s well said. Thank you.

Beardsley: Yeah.

Bluey: Final question for you: For any viewers or listeners who are out there wondering how they can get involved with the Association of the United States Navy, what advice do you have for them?

Beardsley: First of all, come into our site, ausn.org. Take a look at everything we’re writing about, because we’re going to try to tell you what’s happening on the policy side. And then we want you engaged. If you’re not engaged, the military leadership will be happy to do whatever they want to do. But when they hear from you, when senators and congressmen hear from you, we’ll make that easy, they’re going to listen.

So come to the site at ausn.org. Join, become a member. If you support the military, if you’re a family member of the military or if you just love this country, we want you as a member, because we want your voice active in the dialogue.

Bluey: Jason Beardsley, executive director of the Association of the United States Navy, thanks so much for joining us on The Daily Signal.

Beardsley: You bet. Thank you.