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Confronting racial issues: why it’s important

Close up photo of an Airman holding a candle

U.S. Air Force Col. Randy Oakland, 39th Air Base Wing commander, holds a candle during a vigil June 17, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th ABW chapel hosted the event as a way to promote unity and camaraderie between all members of the community regardless of race, ethnicity, national background and religion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of an Airman holding a candle

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Coleman, 39th Comptroller Squadron attends a candlelight vigil June 17, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Members of Incirlik attended the vigil as a show of peace and unity amidst the civil unrest taking place in the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of an Airman holding a candle

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tomeika Frazier, 39th Communications Squadron superintendent, prays during a candlelight vigil June 17, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The 39th Air Base Wing chapel hosted the event as a show of solidarity against racial injustice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

“No justice; no peace.”

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer left many Americans shouting for change. While protests ripple through the country, echoes for reform can be heard across the world.

These events have shined a light on how racism and other forms of discrimination are handled, and many Airmen are wondering how to address the problem.

While Americans back home are confronted with this reality face-to-face, Airmen stationed here at Incirlik Air Base are watching as these events unfold back home stateside.

Air Force leaders are highlighting the need to engage in difficult conversations regarding race.

“We need to foster an open and honest dialogue on race,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright. “Share your stories. Talk through your blind spots and biases. The way we are going to fix it relies on taking a hard look at our processes and systems, and truly listening to our people.”

Celebrations like Juneteenth have become the outlet for Incirlik Titans to not only remember the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, but also to have open conversations on how to understand each other and how to address racism and other forms of discrimination.

“These conversations are merely a starting point for getting us to where we need to be,” said Master Sgt. Ashley Martin, 39th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity representative. “They’re necessary in order for us to be able to identify with and empathize with the people we see and work with, that we otherwise might not make the time for.”

She added that common decency and respect are baselines for how each and every Airman should be treated.

Martin’s colleague, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Mendez explained it’s the duty of the EO office to uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII provides Airmen a resource for issues they may be facing when it comes to their race, color, religion, national origin and sex.

The EO team also works with commanders at all levels to provide guidance on maintaining a healthy climate and eradicating unlawful discrimination.

“We want the best for our Airmen…even in their off time, from the moment they wake up in the morning, until the moment they lay themselves to sleep at night,” Mendez said. “It’s really important that all Airmen set the right example. You never know who needs you and who’s looking up to you.”

Because of the state of affairs back home, Mendez said it’s even more important for Airmen to provide an inclusive environment both on and off duty.

It’s important to have these difficult conversations so that we gain a better understanding of how we’ll get through these times together, Mendez noted.

Mendez recalled when he was confronted with racially inappropriate jokes when he was just a young Airman working in aerospace ground equipment, while on a shift with two non-commissioned officers.

“The NCOs would occasionally joke around about Mexican stereotypes to see how I would react but I wouldn’t because I didn’t want to cause any waves,” he said. “But one night it became too much and I just lost it and called them both a disparaging term out of frustration.”

After that, there were little conversations.

During that time, Mendez said he just wanted to give the noncommissioned officers a taste of their own medicine so they might stop. He didn’t know about EO resources, or how to engage with leadership. 

“One message during one conversation will not be enough,” Mendez said. “We need to be able to have real conversations with intentional and deliberate respectful dialog.”

The 39th Air Base Wing EO office strives to offer support to Titans here and looks to provide information to those who may come across a bad situation.

“Don’t suffer in silence because if something does not feel right, it likely isn’t,” Martin said. “By speaking up, we may be able to educate and correct a member before there is a significant impact on an Airman and the mission. If you feel like your issue is EO-related or not, stop by our office, ask us questions. If we can’t assist you, we’ll refer you to someone else who possibly can. We want you to get the help you need. We want you to make an informed decision about what is best for you.”

 

The Equal Opportunity office is located in building 968 next to the Titan’s Refuge.

They can be reached at 676-6210 or +90 (549) 821-4357/4359 and by email at

39abw.eo@us.af.mil