The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Keeping a Finger in the Pulse: Squadron Volunteer Diversity and Inclusion Advisor

Wild Blue Yonder --

“I want the wisdom and knowledge to lead, participate in, and listen to necessary conversations on racism, diversity and inclusion. I want the wisdom and knowledge to lead those willing to take committed and sustained action to make our Air Force better.”1

General Charles Q. Brown ~ 22nd Chief of Staff of the Air Force

The United States military was viewed in the 1950s as the model example for the successful integration of Black Americans into a former openly segregated institution. In his book A Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Carrier reminds us that the armed forces launched desegregation initiatives “a few years before the civil rights movement began and affirmative action was invented.”2 This was concretely demonstrated in October 1954 where the last racially segregated military unit was abolished.

Sixty-six years later, systemic social biases and resulting racial inequalities persist despite prominent DOD-wide D&I initiatives. Danelle Gamble argues that “the military cannot presume diversity equals or reliably translates into inclusion.” She further contends that “inclusivity requires the military to plan for and require deliberate, everyday action at the practical, conscious level.”3 Accordingly, the campaign to undo systemic social inequalities needs relentless, pervasive, and well-thought action from members of all social groups with a vested interest in doing so.

The Air Force actively seeks to attain diversity of thought. This concept, paired with diversity of experience and diversity of knowledge, will give us a competitive edge in the age of Great Power Competition. Lt Gen Anthony Cotton, former Air University Commander and current Deputy Commander of Global Strike Command, asserts that we can “start by reinforcing the need to widen our perspective and understanding what our less represented groups need as they navigate through the journey of military service.”4 Benjamin Bearman recommends that the Air Force must establish dedicated resources to explore and develop cognitive-centric programs and measures, create tools to assess inclusiveness, and educate leaders on managing diverse environments.5 The Air Force also released an as-of-now optional feedback tool, the Airman Comprehensive Assessment Addendum – AF Form 724-A where one of the qualities assessed is defined as an Airman’s ability to work with others and foster an inclusive climate.

In December 2020, the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Air Force released their Independent Racial Disparity review. The report confirmed that racial disparity exists for Black/African American Airmen and Space Professionals in the areas of military discipline and career development opportunities.6 In response, the report prompted the Department of the Air Force to initiate a second Inspector General Independent Disparity Review mid-April 2021 by sending surveys to Airmen and Guardians and “conducting interviews that are focused on barriers to service that some faced based on gender and ethnicity.”7

Defibrillation at the Beating Heart of the Air Force

While D&I remains an active topic across the Air Force, Headquarters-directed initiatives have been, for the most part, devolved into what may be perceived as “check the box” situations. Dissecting through the IG Racial Disparity Report, we are presented with an opportunity to address these issues at the unit level. “Of Black service members who experienced or witnessed racial discrimination, about 80 percent said a supervisor or commander initiated the discrimination. Only about 35 percent of those Black service members reported the incidents to leadership. 70 percent of Black Airmen who reported the incident to their commander were not satisfied with the leadership response.  Only 18 percent said they reported the incident to EO or IG.”8

Given that 80 percent of our African American military personnel surveyed in this review experience discrimination from supervisors and/or commanders, this highlights an opportunity that we can enact realistic changes at the unit level. While First Sergeants exist to tackle issues at the unit level, the report also contradictorily says that “the majority of First Sergeant interviewees said they had not witnessed any difference in the treatment of service members based on race or ethnicity, but also said by the time they saw the paperwork based on a negative infraction, most fact-finding had been accomplished.” Paired with the statistic that only 35 percent of the Black service members reporting their incidents to their commander, there is a massive disconnect between the workers and the leader. There exists a cost-effective golden opportunity that requires a conduit directly from front-line workers and to the situational awareness of the commander. That conduit is the Volunteer Diversity and Inclusion Advisor right at the beating heart of the United States Air Force.

Channels Open: Volunteer Advisors Role

Creating this conduit that specializes in issues relating to D&I has multiple benefits for the Air Force. Firstly, it empowers the Airmen to work closely with their commander in tackling issues on D&I. As stated in AFI 36-2710,  “Commander Worked Issues occur when allegations of unlawful discrimination or harassment are made either orally or in writing to the commander and the allegations have not been submitted as a formal or informal complaint through the Installation Equal Opportunity Office.” Consequently, having these advisors in the unit allows the commander to address discrimination issues at their level, granting them opportunities to lead in sculpting their organizations into diverse and cohesive units. In the spirit of taking a proactive approach, these volunteer advisors will be in charge of D&I programs or events in their respective units, offloading the commander to focus on other issues that demand his attention.

Exploring this idea further, these volunteer advocates will complement the Equal Opportunity Office. The IG Review also stresses that the “Director of DAF Equal Opportunity (EO) and Senior Program Manager stated they believe the EO career field is understaffed.” With this lack of funding within the EO community, the establishment of these advisors, to include the possibility of being responsible for tracking Commander Worked Issues, would reduce the load on EO but also close the gap on discrimination issues in the workplace.

Advising the Advisors

Designed to mimic Victim Advocates for Sexual Assault Response Coordinator programs but focusing on D&I issues, these volunteer advisors will need to be trained to identify and handle D&I-related issues. As spelled out by AFI 36-7001, Diversity & Inclusion: “1.6. Separate and Distinct from Equal Opportunity. Air Force Diversity and Inclusion efforts complement, but remain separate and distinct from, Air Force Equal Opportunity compliance programs and activities.” Therefore, EO will not initiate nor maintain training for these advisors but will guide these advisors in properly addressing unit Diversity and Inclusion issues.

Future Proofing: Looking far Forward

This paper recommends a Volunteer Diversity and Inclusion Advisor position at the very least at the squadron. These advisors may get training from free online courses specific to Diversity and Inclusion. These courses include, but not limited to, Optimizing Diversity on Teams, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, and University of South Florida’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate.9 These advisors may also seek counsel from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion if local efforts fail.

These positions, through constant refinement and review of AFI 36-2706 Equal Opportunity, may also require the creation of an Equal Opportunity Advisor Program training for unit-level personnel to solidify these advisors’ skillsets. This course could mimic the installation EO training requirement that develops a base of knowledge and skills that allow graduates to assess human relations climates in the organizations they serve and to provide guidance to members of the unit to promote and engage in inclusive behaviors. Graduates will be certified to serve as full-time D&I advisors.

Although existing as an additional duty that works for the commander at the unit level in the short term, with further research these members can be leveraged for the Air Force through a Special Experience Identifier (SEI). Upon receiving these SEIs, they can be used to lead Mission Resource Groups at the installation or MAJCOM level. They can also be used as Commander Directed Inspection Officers at the unit level. They can be used to develop self-sustaining tools for leadership in varying levels and a way to get senior leaders and Airmen at all levels to be involved in fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive unit enabling unit cohesion and talent retention for our fights in our near future.

Conclusion

The intent of this paper is to illuminate a proactive approach in addressing issues of D&I across the Air Force. This began with reviewing recommendations from previous authors in topics related to D&I. This paper then explored the idea of creating trained Volunteer Advisors for D&I at the unit level. This paper clarified the roles of these volunteers, their capabilities, as well as training which to enable quality monitoring of D&I issues within the unit. Finally, it illustrated future research recommendations for improving Air Force Policy in maximizing the use of these advisors in D&I efforts. Ultimately, the goal is to foster an open and inclusive culture of diversity of thought to empower our Airmen in accelerating the change to win our fights in the future.

“Our nation is ready to fulfill the promise of our Constitution to build a more perfect union and to ensure equal justice for all people, and it is your generation that can and will bring the joint force to be truly inclusive of all people.”10

General Mark A. Milley ~ 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Captain Orlando D. Cabigas

Captain Orlando D. Cabigas (BS, University of San Carlos; MS, Grand Canyon University) is currently the Nurse Manager for the Operational Medicine Flight of the 673 Operational Medical Readiness Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. He immigrated to the United States in 2012 and directly commissioned to the United States Air Force in 2018. Prior to his current assignment, he was requested by name for the 673d Medical Operations Squadron Executive Officer position and aided its transition into the 673d Healthcare Operations Squadron.
This research was conducted as part of the SOS Air University Advanced Research (AUAR) elective.

Notes


1 Gen Charles Q. Brown Jr., “Here’s What I’m Thinking About,” Pacific Air Forces, 5 June 2020, https://www.pacaf.af.mil/.

2 Jim Carrier, A Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2004), 28.

3 Danelle R. Gamble, "Toward a Racially Inclusive Military," Parameters 50, no. 3, 14 August 2020, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/, 66–67.

4 Lt Gen Anthony Cotton, “Diversity, Inclusion Are Tools for National Defense, Not Buzzwords,” The Official Home Page of the US Air Force, 8 March 2021, https://www.af.mil/.

5 Benjamin Bearman et al., “Leveraging Diversity of Thought through Inclusion: Advantages, Disadvantages, and Taking Advantage,” Air University: Air Command and Staff College, 17 March 2017, https://apps.dtic.mil/.

6 The SAF/IGS IRDR Team, “Report of Inquiry (S8918P) Independent Racial Disparity Review,” The Inspector General Department of the Air Force, December 2020, https://www.af.mil/.

7 Brian W. Everstine, “Department of the Air Force Begins Work on Second Disparity Review,” Air Force Magazine, 12 April 2021, https://www.airforcemag.com/.

8 The SAF/IGS IRDR Team, “Report of Inquiry (S8918P) Independent Racial Disparity Review.

9 Dr. Aviva Legatt and Derek Newberry, PhD, “Optimizing Diversity on Teams,” Coursera, Accessed 30 September 2021, https://www.coursera.org/; “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate | USF Muma College of Business,” Accessed 30 September 2021, https://www.usf.edu/; Junko Takagi, “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace,” Coursera, Accessed 30 September 2021, https://www.coursera.org/.

10 The SAF/IGS IRDR Team, “Report of Inquiry (S8918P) Independent Racial Disparity Review.

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