ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., –
The Air Force is a microcosm of America. It is a melting pot where Airmen of different ethnicities, religions and cultural backgrounds work side-by-side. As such, sometimes, there are social and behavioral turbulences.
For that reason, installation leadership focused on the issue of diversity and inclusion during the latest Robins Proud Forum held Feb. 23 at The Refuge at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
Col. Rosalie Duarte, 78th Air Base Wing vice commander, believes it is paramount differences be embraced and acceptance purposely pursued.
“I equate our collective effort to building a dream house,” she said. “To build one that stands the test of time and weather any storms, you must start with a plan. A strong foundation is a must along with having the right materials. At Robins, we are building the framework where people can live, learn, work and play - where they feel respected, included and have equitable opportunities to serve.”
In June, the Air Force started conducting a service-wide review of diversity and inclusion matters such as: overall work climate, barriers to opportunities and identifying areas requiring support and corrective actions.
The results will be used to identify shortfalls and successes within the Air Force.
The White House is supporting the effort to create an open dialogue on controversial matters, such as gender identity, sexual orientation or other groups who have been historically marginalized.
“President Biden signed a new executive order revoking the previous administration’s halt on discussing issues like unconscious bias training and white privilege,” said Lee Floyd, Air Force Reserve Command Diversity and Inclusion Office chief. “We cannot run away from those things. We need to have those difficult discussions as a community.”
Tackling challenging matters is nothing new for the Air Force.
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order that called for equal treatment within the military service without regard to race, color or national origin.
According to the Air Force Historical Support Division, this was the first branch of service to complete integration, which laid the ground work for current Air Force policies on equality.
And the mission to unite continues.
“People with disabilities are now a part of the discussion,” said Jeff Hissen, a Human Resource Specialist with the 78th Force Support Squadron. “Those men and women are skilled and can contribute to various jobs. So, we are determined to reduce the stigma around hiring a person with a physical or mental disability.”
Hissen regularly works with area universities and workforce recruitment programs by holding seminars regarding federal hiring practices of disabled people.
His goal is to get interested individuals to apply and be hired.
Robins Installation Commander Col. Brian Moore said creating a stronger force means addressing uncomfortable truths.
“We all have biases and ignorances. Our ability to have candid conversations with each other with good intent is critical,” said Moore. “It’s important to understand that if people are opening up with good intent, there should be an extra dose of grace in that conversation. We need to have unbreakable commitment to work through our ignorances and become better.”
Soaring to higher heights of growth means taking action.
Dana Stanley, Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex vice director, shared the strides being made to foster a work place of tolerance.
“Our vision is for all people to be valued and have equal opportunity to reach their full potential,” Stanley said.
In November, Brig. Gen. Jennifer Hammerstedt, WR-ALC commander and Marion Williams, American Federation of Government Employees Local 987 president, signed the first charter for the new WR-ALC Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Stanley will lead the monthly D & I council sessions, which will allow individuals around the complex to create solutions to issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.
Creating those solutions will involve everyone in the service.
Duarte wants the old adage “A house divided against itself cannot stand” to be taken to heart.
“As we reflect on Black History Month and look forward to Women’s History Month, teaching others about diversity makes us stronger,” she said. “Each person has a role in building this house, no matter your race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability. If you are innovative and driven, we want you to be able to see yourself thriving as part of Team Robins.”