Air Force Presses for Inclusion
By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
The Air Force is a broadly diverse institution, drawing members from every sector of American society—and beyond. But the service still has a long way to go before people feel fully included, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said Sept. 16.
“Diversity [means] you ask somebody to the dance,” she explained during a question-and-answer session at AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center. “Inclusion is, you actually ask them to dance.”
That means leaders need to do more to reach out and help people become more engaged, she said. “We need to have people who are actually asking people to dance and be part of that culture, that organization, that mission, and that sense of belonging.”
AFA’s three-day virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference (vASC) was an opportunity to expand that engagement, and leaders discussed the value of inclusion and plans for tackling it as a cultural issue.
During a panel discussion on diversity and racial challenges in the Air Force, Bass said the inherent power of an organization’s diversity is the versatility with which its members’ differences imbue the whole.
“It’s critical to have that diversity in the Air Force that we have today because it is truly through that diversity that we can become … more creative, more open, more innovative,” she said.
In the panel discussion, former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff—and former AFA president—retired USAF Gen. Larry O. Spencer said diversity brings numerous advantages. “Not only do you want to reflect the population that you serve, but you also want to throw a problem in the middle of the table and have all kinds of ideas come into it,” he said. “That way, the decision-maker can maybe get ideas that he or she never would’ve thought about.”
The overarching goal is not diversity, Spencer said, but maximizing combat capability and lethality. “It’s not about, you know, getting one of these or two of those,” Spencer said. “It’s about making the organization stronger and better. And I think once people understand that, it becomes a different conversation.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said in a Q&A following his vASC keynote address that accepting there is an issue to discuss is a critical first step. “You know, [race] may not have been … talked about as much, but because of the death of George Floyd and the other aspects across our nation, it’s driving a conversation,” Brown said. “So our Airmen feel much more comfortable talking about it.”
Brown said the service has taken some first steps, but the path to greater inclusion won’t be instantaneous.
“This is a long-term journey, and we didn’t get here overnight,” he said. “We’re not gonna change overnight.”
Bass said she’s waiting on the results of a diversity- and inclusion-related survey that was open to Total Force Airmen and Space Professionals as part of the Air Force Inspector General’s deep dive into racial disparities within the Department of the Air Force before coming up with a formal game plan for enhancing USAF inclusion. Response has been overwhelming, Bass said.
“We got hundreds of thousands of responses back on, ‘Here are some of the challenges that our Airmen are experiencing,’” Bass said. Results are now being compiled but will be shared publicly soon. Then comes the hard part.
“Once we have that, we have got to determine what are the lines of effort that we can do with it as an Air Force from the headquarters staff to each major command to each wing to each leader,” Bass said. “What’s actionable?”
Only then can the services start to lay out a way forward.
Brown said USAF must look broadly at every aspect of its personnel systems. “We started to look at how we bring folks in and open up the candidate pool in certain areas and look to see if there are biases that we have in our promotion system, biases in our accession systems, and biases in the testing that qualifies you for certain career fields,” he told reporters in a press conference. “Because some of those haven’t changed in a long time.”
During the same roundtable, Bass said success with “underrepresented groups … getting promoted at great rates” in the enlisted force has her focusing on enhancing retention and inclusion to help more Airmen feel “like they belong.”
“The culture that matters to me most as an Airman is a culture that I have to experience every day.”Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass
“I’ve got a discussion in the next few weeks with a lot of my senior enlisted leaders across the force to talk about what does that mean for awards? What does that mean for recognition?” Bass said. For example, should award recommendations include photos?
While the Air Force no longer includes photos in promotions packages, Bass sees value in using them for awards to ensure Airmen are “in good order and discipline, making sure that dress and appearance is the way that it needs to go.”
“We do have to make sure we’re guarding against unconscious bias, but we still are in the United States military and we’ve got to have … the dress and appearance that is appropriate for the profession of arms we serve in,” Bass said. “So we’re having those discussions right now.”
But not every step on the path toward greater inclusion requires a systemic overhaul. Some just require greater awareness. Individual Airmen can work toward improved inclusion on a daily basis within their formations, Bass emphasized.
“The culture that matters to me most as an Airman is a culture that I have to experience every day, so when I’m in my duty section or my flight or my squadron, that’s the culture that matters most to me,” she said during her post-keynote Q&A. “So every Airman has a role and responsibility in being part of the inclusiveness, in making sure that our Airmen are heard, making sure that we understand their stories—the things that they’ve gone through—and making sure that we are including our Airmen.”
When it comes to the fight for greater inclusion among Air Force ranks, Brown and Bass aren’t going it alone.
The Air Force’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which launched June 9 to investigate the impact of demographic-related disparities on USAF and the Space Force, will transition into a new office dedicated to cultivating these qualities across both services, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Lt. Gen. Brain T. Kelly announced Sept. 16.
“This task force that’s created now will transition to a new Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging that will work directly for the Secretary of the Air Force [and] service the two service Chiefs—both on the Air Force side and the Space Force side,” Kelly said during a vASC panel on Air Force talent management and culture issues.
The Air Force is also bringing in experts from the corporate and academic worlds who possess “really detailed experience and track records in this area,” he added.
Kelly suggested that moving the Department of the Air Force organization that manages these efforts out of the A1 portfolio may help win “more corporate buy-in and resources” for these endeavors, but he did not offer a timeline for such a transition.
A parallel Pentagon-level effort—the Defense Department Board on Diversity and Inclusion, chaired by Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett—first convened on July 15 and is slated to transition into a permanent Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, Kelly said.
The panel is trying to identify “those things that are unique for DOD to do that apply to every one of the services,” he said.
Kelly said he sees these Air Force and Pentagon plans, as well as recent inclusion-minded policy changes—such as five-year shaving waivers, allowing diacritical accents on name tapes, and the creation of new Air Force scholarships for students attending historically Black colleges and universities—as concrete examples of programmatic change.
“All those things tell me we’re on a good path to … making permanent changes to culture and not and not just sort of repeating cycles from the past,” Kelly said.
China Propaganda Video Puts Guam in Crosshairs
By Brian W. Everstine
Pacific Air Forces is pushing back against a Chinese military propaganda video depicting an H-6K bomber targeting Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, calling it attempted intimidation in the region.
The video, released Sept. 19, shows the bombers flying alongside fighter aircraft, and firing a missile at a Google Maps-style picture of Andersen’s flight line.
“It is yet another example of their use of propaganda in an attempt to coerce and intimidate the region,” PACAF said in a Sept. 23 statement. “Maintaining the safety of our personnel and resources, as well as our allies and partners, is of the utmost importance and we remain committed to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific for all nations.”
The video shows targeting crosshairs aiming at an empty portion of the apron on the south side of Andersen’s flight line, where refueling tankers are typically seen at the base. In addition to the image of Andersen, the Chinese video uses footage from the American action movies “The Hurt Locker,” “The Rock,” and “Transformers” to dramatically show explosions.
Andersen was the home of the Air Force’s continuous bomber presence mission, which the service ended in April in a shift to dynamic force employment. Now, smaller bomber task forces are sent to the region for shorter, more unpredictable deployments. A task force of B-1s from the 34th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., is currently deployed to the base.
The video comes as China is expanding its military presence in the Pacific, including building up airstrips on contested islands in the South China Sea to extend the reach of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The Pentagon, in its annual report on China’s Military Power, says the PLAAF is increasing the precision and numbers of air-based cruise missiles, similar to what is portrayed in the propaganda video.
The H-6 bombers have been modernized, with aerial refueling capability and a larger munitions capacity. The PLAAF and the People’s Liberation Army Navy have the third-largest aviation force in the world, and the largest in the Indo-Pacific region, the report states.
New Superintendent at USAFA
By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark officially took over as U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) superintendent and discussed priorities for his tenure during a Sept. 23 change of command ceremony at the USAFA campus in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Today, as I step on this field once again, it is significant because I’m honored and privileged by the opportunity to give something back to the school that has given me so much, and it is my goal to prepare every cadet to make their dreams come true, just as my dream is coming true today,” the 1986 USAFA alum said in his first address as superintendent.
Clark’s assumption of command is historic for the Academy, since he is both its first Black superintendent and its first former commandant of cadets to serve in USAFA’s top role, the Academy confirmed to Air Force Magazine via email on Sept. 23.
Clark, who succeeds fellow alum and now-retired Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, most recently served as the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration. Silveria led the Academy for just over three years.
In his remarks at the event, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. called Clark “the right leader to develop the courageous officers we need to compete, deter, and win.”
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond also gave Clark a glowing endorsement, dubbing him “the perfect leader” to help mold future Airmen and Space Professionals into “the bold officers” the National Defense Strategy and current fight demand.
Clark told the attendees he plans to keep up several “priority efforts” of his predecessor, including:
- A continued commitment to developing “leaders of character;”
- Continuing the Academy’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic through “a reliance on scientific and mathematical expertise, extraordinary teamwork, unwavering perseverance, and strict adherence to guidelines;”
- Efforts to further foster a “culture of dignity and respect for all” at the school, which he said is necessary for the success of both the Academy “as an institution” and for its cadets as future leaders “in an increasingly diverse Air Force;”
- Building out the school’s Institute for Future Conflict, an effort Clark said today’s “strategic environment demands,” since future USAF leaders will need to be able to solve problems they’re not even currently aware of in order to compete and succeed in future conflicts. “These efforts are already underway, but we must find ways to move smartly and quickly in order to accelerate change, or else, we will lose,” he added.
“I’m proud of you, I’m here for you, and I promise that I will leave it on the field for you,” he told the assembled cadets. “Let’s do this.”
Big Data to Make Tyndall Safer
By Rachel S. Cohen
Tech firms SimpleSense and Novetta will take the lead in setting up a new kind of operations center for Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., as part of its “Base of the Future” effort.
The Air Force awarded $9 million to startup SimpleSense in September month for the virtual “Installation Resilience Operations Center (IROC),” which will act as a central hub for base security and facility operations at Tyndall. The Florida Panhandle base is a proving ground of sorts for new infrastructure ideas as it rebuilds from Hurricane Michael, which destroyed much of the installation in 2018.
Tyndall sought ideas from four pairs of companies at a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition on Sept. 14. SimpleSense, which pulls in emergency services data from civilian and military agencies to create a holistic picture of base security, and data-analytics company Novetta came out on top.
“The selection team determined SimpleSense/Novetta’s innovative approach could have the most potential to reshape the way the AF manages [the Internet of Things] across the enterprise,” Air Force spokesman Mark Kinkade said.
Their software will connect to sensors and systems across the base to gather information about building health, personnel safety, energy efficiency, and more.
“The installation of the future requires immediate awareness, response, and even prediction of major incidents, whether a 911 call or equipment failure,” SimpleSense said in a Sept. 21 release. “The objective of IROC is to modernize response operations to enable real-time data collection and analysis of all operational technology systems, from smart buildings to physical security systems. Breaking down the stovepipes that separate data enables a safer, more productive, and resilient installation.”
For example, in case of a shooting on base, sensors could detect gunshots and ping the ops center and first responders. More people would be aware of a dangerous situation earlier, and be able to respond faster.
Big data can help in less dire situations, too. If the IROC software notes that an air-conditioning unit is about to fail, or a structure is close to collapse, it can save the Air Force money by addressing issues sooner instead of waiting for things to break.
Working with the Tyndall Program Management Office (PMO), which is in charge of rebuilding the base, the companies will gradually mature their technology to be fully functional in three years. If the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center likes what it sees, it could spread the concept to other bases.
“Every wing commander has a responsibility to think about these ‘base of the future’ concepts, anytime they look at implementing an infrastructure project or renovation, and take what makes sense for their situation to implement,” Tyndall PMO boss Brig. Gen. Patrice A. Melancon recently said.
Moon Shot News
A “hot-fire test” to assess the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s core stage and integrated systems is scheduled for early November. It is the last of eight crucial tests to ensure the massive rocket is ready for a manned mission to the moon.
The first mission, Artemis I, will send an Orion spacecraft on two unmanned trips around the moon, and is on track for launch in 2021. Then, in 2023, astronauts on the Artemis II mission will assess the Orion’s handling capabilities and related hardware and software performance.
Artemis III, slated for 2024, will be humanity’s return to the surface of the moon as astronauts step on the lunar South Pole.