Diversity and Inclusion–an Air Force asset

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Angulo
  • 39th Air Base Wing

The year is 1947 and Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play for a Major League Baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court also prohibited segregation for Mexican-American students in California public schools, which set a precedent for the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case seven years later. Gerty Cori became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in medicine and the third woman in history to win the award in any category.

Nineteen forty seven also changed the course of the U.S. military as the U.S. Congress transformed the Army Air Corps and established the Air Force as its own branch. 75 years later, the U.S. Air Force is more diverse than at any other time in its history. For example, the service recently appointed its first African-American chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnn S. Bass, the first woman to hold this position.

Bass shared her thoughts on where the Air Force is headed regarding diversity and inclusion (D&I).

“Our Air Force is on the right side of history,” she said. “We are creating not only historic moments … we are focused on setting a foundation for all Americans to see themselves in this great institution.”

The Air Force’s D&I mission is to ​​attract, recruit, develop and retain a high-quality, diverse total force, ensuring a culture of inclusion in order to leverage the diversity of the nation for strategic advantage in Air Force, joint and coalition operations.

Master Sgt. Scheneider Paillant, 39th Force Support Squadron Readiness and Plans superintendent, explained how the Air Force can leverage diversity in its force.

“If you are one-track minded and all you know is your personal experience, you will remain the same person you were when you left your parents’ house,” Paillant said. “Working with a diverse group of people allows you to evolve as an individual because you get to see different perspectives by being introduced to new information, thought processes and how different people attack certain situations. If you can learn from those individuals, you become a more well-rounded person and Airman.”

Paillant recounted the cultural awareness he gained while serving alongside Airmen and civilian contractors of different ethnicities and backgrounds at the Eglin Air Force Base dining facility.

“What was so amazing was that they all had different ways of cooking the exact same thing,” Paillant said. “It made the food a lot better. I learned so much about food and how it applies to culture. Even the customers benefited from that because we definitely had the best food in the Air Force, and I stand by that. We have the Hennessey [Food Service Excellence Award] to prove it.”

Tech. Sgt. Steven Finona, 39th Maintenance Squadron munitions and operations noncommissioned officer in charge, echoed Paillant’s sentiment and added that there are many benefits when D&I are present in society and the workplace.

“People of different backgrounds have different experiences, ideas and values,” he said. “If we’re calling ourselves ‘the best Air Force’ with all these different types of expertise, you have to include people with different values to make a diverse and truly exceptional force.”

Over the years, the Air Force has evolved its policies to account for the diverse backgrounds in the force. Recent examples include updating regulations on tattoos, specific headwear and beards for religious purposes while in uniform and more.

The Air Force specifically made recent changes to prioritize D&I by modernizing its regulations on dress and appearance for women.

“I would say overall, we’ve made a lot of changes in terms of dress and appearance, especially with women and hairstyles,” said Technical Sgt. Yolanda Jackson, Base Infrastructure Flight section chief for the 39th Contracting Squadron. “Black women can wear locks, we can wear our hair naturally, loose and not be confined to such limiting depth and measurements that we used to have.”

However your hair grows, tying your hair into a tight bun for eight to 12 hours a day, five days a week, four weeks a month and 12 months a year has shown to have negative physical effects. Many female service members report hair loss due to the constant pulling of hair, also known as traction alopecia. Symptoms include bumps, soreness or stinging of the scalp, scaling, itching, and migraines.

Recently, members of the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative at Incirlik Air Base hosted a panel during a resilience tactical pause. Each panelist had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experience on diversity and inclusion with audience members in an open forum.

Jackson offered her advice on ways to navigate tough conversations involving some of the sensitive issues related to D&I.

“Listen with empathy,” she said. “When you talk about active listening, when you’re having the conversation or when someone is expressing their feelings about what's going on, don’t automatically discount them. Don’t shoot someone down. It’s part of diversity and inclusion to try to understand someone else’s feelings.”

Paillant recalled how the Air Force was when he first joined compared to his time now.

“We were told to shut up and color,” he said. “You do as you're told and then you ask questions, as opposed to now, we’re asking ‘why?’ If you want to be an effective supervisor, you are taught to get to the why and find out what motivates individuals. It can be something as simple as being able to have tattoos now which makes those feel more at home … I think the future of the Air Force looks good.”