As the public awaits the findings of the Department of the Air Force’s recent diversity and inclusion survey, major commands across USAF are launching their own efforts to make these departmental priorities the norm.
In the case of Air Force Global Strike Command, these efforts are divided between its component numbered Air Forces: 8th Air Force and 20th Air Force.
Eighth Air Force, which calls Barksdale Air Force Base, La., home and handles the bomber side of AFGSC’s wheelhouse, has been primarily tackling diversity and inclusion through dialogue and education, Command Chief Master Sgt. Melvina A. Smith told Air Force Magazine in a September interview.
In response to the civil unrest that gripped the country after George Floyd’s Memorial Day death in police custody, the NAF’s headquarters “engaged in some very intimate discussions about dialoguing with diversity, inclusion, and even racial unrest,” Smith said.
The optional conversations included mental health, equal opportunity, military family life, chaplaincy, and AFGSC experts. The feedback, she said, was overwhelmingly positive. The talks led to tangible results, including both so-called “speed mentoring,” in which racially and professionally diverse leaders mentored Headquarters 8th Air Force team members, and “open-door mentorship,” where the NAF’s “senior leaders, civilian officers, and enlisted pick days of the month” they literally open their doors for one-on-one mentoring meetings.
“These have been very popular on both sides—not just the member, the mentee, but the mentor, as well,” Smith said.
The NAF’s efforts have also extended beyond 8th AF’s home base.
According to Smith, “cross talk” and information sharing between commanders, superintendents, and wing commanders has been happening across 8th AF installations.
“They’ve not only had small talks and dialogues, but they’ve also launched out some of the things that their team members have said—these are the things that we would like to see happen, of course—and so I’ve heard nothing but a lot of goodness in that,” she said.
While these conversations don’t mean the NAF’s work is finished—“our job is to roll up our sleeves and get that work done,” she noted—these conversations are bringing more diverse Airman and USAF civilian viewpoints to the drawing board and shining a light on issues that impact young officers and enlisted, she said.
Smith added that she and her boss have also conducted Zoom-based check-ins from “five to seven leaders from each” of the NAF’s installations who comprise “his Junior Advisory Council.”
“When it comes to a diverse set, it’s really about engaging with our team members, making sure every voice is heard, acknowledging … that we can always reach out and make sure that we have every perspective at the table and every voice is heard, and every voice is considered when we go forward,” she said.
While a substantial part of 8th Air Force diversity and inclusion efforts focused on issues of race and civil unrest, their scope has also extended to issues of gender and of ensuring that the NAF’s approach to discipline is equitable, she said.
That discussion has touched on USAF-wide statistics and where 8th Air Force stands in comparison, as well as ways leaders within the NAF can ensure its practices are “fair and equitable.”
The latter set of considerations includes “really taking the time” to speak with 8th AF Airmen to understand their backstories, their perceptions of punishment, “and how they respond to authority,” since understanding the entirety of Airmen’s experiences and letting them know that the service is dedicated to helping them overcome their obstacles is crucial, she said.
“Team members need to know that they can recover, right?” she said. “We’re not a one mistake Air Force. We may be a one crime, but not one mistake.”
Grassroots diversity and inclusion efforts are also underway within 20th Air Force, the numbered Air Force that handles the missile side of the house at Air Force Global Strike Command and calls F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., home.
The 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren, the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., have each set up in-house Diversity and Inclusion Committees to help bridge D&I gaps and foster conversations about these issues, 20th Air Force spokesperson Capt. Ieva Bytautaite told Air Force Magazine in a Dec. 3 email.
The committees assemble events to empower Airmen to sound off on their personal diversity and inclusion challenges and “open the dialogue on discussions about race and culture and overall to help Airmen feel welcome and included in their communities on and off base,” she wrote. The groups also collaborate with local institutions to talk about how they might “make their local communities more inclusive and accepting of diversity,” she added.
And in June, Malmstrom’s command chief and equal opportunity Airmen debuted a form the base community can use to sound off on diversity and inclusion within the wing, either anonymously or with their names attached.
20th Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Michael J. Lutton called D&I “fundamental to the fabric of our core values as Airmen,” and said that the ability to have candid, but respectful, conversations on these often hot-button issues ultimately makes the numbered Air Force stronger.
“A command climate where tough conversations on diversity and inclusion can occur, in a professional manner, make us a more lethal, ready team,” he said in a statement provided to Air Force Magazine.
AFGSC also hosted a virtual Women’s Leadership Symposium at Barksdale in September.
“I’ve been in the military for 28 years, [and] I have never sat on a panel and discussed mitigating biases with leaders across the command, with the command watching, in that forum,” Smith recalled of this year’s event. “That alone tells us that we’re moving forward in some of the concerns that they had.”
Smith said the event gave leaders an opportunity to discuss how they each overcame their conscious biases to become better, fairer, and equitable leaders.
Mentorship, networking, and cultivating personal connections among AFGSC personnel were among the event’s other major takeaways, she noted.
“I believe finding harmony is something that we all try to leverage and we try to stop and reprioritize in our life, whether we’re male or female—the dynamics of the family are different today—and so, everyone is trying to figure that out, and they need to hear from others saying, ‘This is how, you know, I’ve been able to find some harmony in my life. … This is how I put my mask on first, before I’m able to take care of others,’” she said.
What Other MAJCOMs Are Doing
Air Force Materiel Command launched its own survey on Nov. 30 to “gather information on perceptions of policy, practices, and procedures impacting diversity and inclusion through the lens of race and ethnicity” and to help gauge the command’s climate surrounding these issues, according to an AFMC release.
“Our goal is simple: We want to create an environment where every Airman feels accepted, valued, and has the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” said AFMC Commander Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., in the release. “This survey is one tool that will help us identify areas where we can do better.”
The command will use the survey’s findings to figure out where its AFMC diversity and inclusion program is succeeding and falling short, and to “shape future sensing sessions across the command,” AFMC wrote.
Command Airmen and civilians may take the optional Survey Monkey-based questionnaire until Dec. 21, and responses will be kept anonymous, the command wrote.
Air Combat Command recently hired a diversity and inclusion officer for the first time, command spokesperson 1st Lt. Paige Skinner told Air Force Magazine.
Additionally, the command’s Manpower, Personnel, and Services Directorate is developing “a diversity and inclusion strategic plan that will integrate with” ACC Commander Gen. Mark D. Kelly’s priorities.
“As always, we will continue to foster healthy and professional conversations to build inclusive and cohesive teams,” she added.
Air Education and Training Command, on the other hand, recently updated its Strategic Action Plan to include a greater focus on diversity and inclusion, calling on Airmen to “drive a culture of Air Force core values, diversity, and inclusion,” according to a Nov. 3 release.
“Leaders in AETC need to remove barriers, promote mutual respect, and encourage tough conversations in safe spaces,” said AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Marshall B. “Brad” Webb in the release. “These conversations are about national security, about readiness, about teamwork, but more importantly are about unity, and at the end of the day, humanity. We should be talking about this every day in the First Command because we set the foundation for the entire Department of the Air Force.”
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