JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Diversity and winning the next great power competition go hand-in-hand. Recognizing the value of having and developing agile thinkers at all levels of the Air Force who have diverse backgrounds and experiences, Air Education and Training Command leaders have taken deliberate actions focused on diversity and inclusion for both recruits and current Airmen and Guardians.
“We still have work to do to remove barriers that prevent every Airman from reaching his or her full potential, especially Airmen from racial or ethnic groups underrepresented in our Air Force or senior leader levels, but we are making progress in many ways,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command. “We are also working on a number of initiatives that remove barriers that enable us to cultivate a high performing and innovative Air Force reflective of the best of our nation.”
Focused recruiting in underserved areas while developing partnerships with underrepresented groups
With a goal to recruit and access the best of all Americans eligible to serve, members of the Air Force Recruiting Service, along with Headquarters Reserve Officer Training Corps and Junior ROTC based at Air University, have implemented programs centered on mentoring, educating, and giving underrepresented population groups opportunities to fly in the Air Force. AETC is also creating new partnerships with underrepresented groups in recruiting, selection, and accession programs for both rated and non-rated career fields.
AFRS’ Detachment 1 was activated in October 2018 and develops innovative programs in support of the service’s Total Force (active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve) recruiting efforts. Members of the detachment focus on pre-accession audiences (youths, young adults and their influencers) and work with partners to provide pathways to accession sources like The U.S. Air Force Academy, ROTC and Officer Training School.
“Our AFRS Det. 1 is all about creating that excitement and understanding of what we do,” said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, AFRS commander. “It's a very attractive lifestyle. But, if we don't tell people about it, if we don't show them, if we don't let them taste it, then we potentially lose very high quality, often diverse, recruits.”
In the detachment’s two years of existence, the unit has participated in 165 events with over 355,000 attendees, directly mentoring more than 39,000 youth. They have also worked with more affinity organizations such as Latino Pilot Association, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Women in Aviation International, and Ninety-Nines, as well as youth organizations, such as Civil Air Patrol and Junior ROTC.
The “GO Inspire” program began Jan. 1 and rallies general officers to hit the streets with teams of top Airmen and Guardians to inform, influence and inspire youth and youth influencers from underrepresented groups for military service in the Air and Space Forces.
“Our intent is for every youth to have an opportunity to connect with someone they can identify with. That may be based on race or gender. It could also be where they grew up or simply finding someone who’s accomplished their dream,” Thomas said.
The Air Force is also now using a competitive board process to select qualified newly-commissioned officers for placement into strategically located diverse metropolitan statistical areas based on DOD joint advertising market research and studies recruiting data. Forty “Gold Bar Diversity Recruiters” were placed at ROTC detachments at or near minority-serving institutions to serve as role models and increase awareness of opportunities in the service, arming high school and college students, parents, educators and influencers with information about AFROTC scholarships and opportunities for both technical (STEM-related) and non-technical degrees.
“Since July, 2020, greater emphasis has been placed on recruiting at and around Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions,” said Brig. Gen. Leslie Maher, commander of Air University’s Holm Center. “The Gold Bars’ ability to relate to and quickly establish rapport by sharing their own recent experiences with potential applicants is the bedrock for diversity and inclusion among tomorrow’s Air and Space Force leaders.”
Additionally, a total of 27 “first year lieutenants” and recent graduates of the USAFA are now based in AFRS recruiting squadrons across the nation.
“At the end of the day, recruiting must be about getting the best athletes on the team,” Thomas said. “Fighting and winning wars is our job and we need to be the best warfighters in order to do that. But not all parts of the nation can see themselves wearing our jersey, and they’re not showing up for try outs. Recruiting for diversity is really about attracting the very best to join our team.”
Air Force Junior ROTC is the most diverse program in the entire service. Per the Holm Center at Air University, historically over 100,000 high school students wear the Air Force uniform to school every week, with 57% of those students being minority and 43% female. Additionally, about half of AFJROTC’s 875 programs are in socio-economic challenged areas such as inner-city or rural.
In 2021, as part of the new J-100 Character-in-Leadership Scholarship initiative, HQ AFJROTC will board select 100 AFJROTC high school seniors for the opportunity to pursue a commission in the Air or Space Forces through AFROTC while earning their college degree.
“The future poses continued diversity challenges that the U.S. Air Force faces, and the J-100 helps meet those challenges by providing Air Force ROTC with highly competitive cadets based on their JROTC experience where they were mentored and challenged by retired officers and noncommissioned officers for two to four years,” Maher said. “In an effort to maintain the service’s competitive edge, this scholarship will deliver hand-picked young men and women already educated in citizenship, leadership, character, responsibility and service to our nation.”
Early exposure to aviation to raise awareness of potential opportunities among diverse youth
Inside AFRS Det. 1, aviation inspiration mentors work to seek out every demographic group in America in order to show them military members in flight suits who look like them.
“The AIM team is one of the greatest assets of Det. 1” said Lt. Col. Annie Driscoll, AFRS Det.1 commander. “It’s an amazing group of motivated individuals that care about giving back to the community and love to share their Air Force journey with others. While the mentorship is invaluable to the youth who receive it, the true reward is with that of the mentor. To help someone succeed to fulfill their dream is worth every minute spent doing it.”
As part of its outreach, AFRS Det. 1 began the Pathway to Wings series, a virtual, interactive career brief meant to inform the future generations of aviators on how to take those first steps to earning their wings. These events include information on USAFA, ROTC, and OTS, and all Total Force rated career options (Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve). AIM members participating in the webinars provide a diverse panel of rated mentors from every aircraft.
“In 2021, Det. 1 plans to grow the AIM team so there is a presence within every flying unit,” Driscoll said. “We’ve flexed to virtual training and host virtual mentoring sessions monthly within our Pathway to Wings webinar series.”
This summer, AFRS Det. 1 is hosting the first three Aim High Flight Academies for 72 youth in Milton, Florida, of which 43% are females and 68% are minorities. Each camp is three weeks long and focuses on leadership and mentorship, and also provides flight training up thru solo flight.
“During the summer months, we pair youth up with a mentor and get them up soloing in a Cessna 150 to let them slip the surly bonds, and feel what it's like to be able to push in the throttle and pull back on the stick and leave the ground, and to be able to learn basic flight maneuvers,” Thomas said. “The Aim High Flight Academy targets what we call early access to let our American youth experience what it's like to fly and be an aviator, to get the bug to be a pilot early.”
The AFJROTC Flight Academy Scholarship Program was created to address a shortage of pilots in commercial and military industries. This year, more than 1,340 cadets applied for the Flight Academy, of which 314 were selected to receive the scholarship valued at over $20,000 to pay training costs for a private pilot license, including coursework, room and board, travel expenses and flight training hours.
Moreover, AFJOTC’s inherent diversity also equates to more diverse applicants and ultimately more diverse pilots. Approximately 51% percent of Flight Academy students come from underrepresented groups. Additionally, of the 270 students who attended in 2018 and 2019, 46% are currently in Air Force accessions programs.
To address the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s priority to increase diversity for the rated force, a $2.4 million contract was awarded to Air Force ROTC for the 2020-21 academic year for the AFROTC “You Can Fly” program. Detachment commanders across the four regions selected a total of 700 cadets to receive $3,500 scholarships to enroll in Federal Aviation Agency private pilot certificate ground school programs. The money can be used for classes, academic material, headset rentals and flight time. Open to all applicants, officials hope youth from under-represented groups will benefit from the monetary assistance to gain skills that help with successful applications.
Identifying and removing barriers to rated careers without lowering standards
As part of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.’s Action Order-A: Airmen, describing a people-first approach, Air Force officials are also in the process of revising the decades-old Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and the Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS). The goal is to determine if there are barriers that affect under-represented youth when preparing for and taking the test that could negatively impact them during the pilot candidate selection process.
One such barrier for those interested in a flying career was a height requirement. A policy adjustment, initiated by the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group, in coordination with AETC, introduced anthropometric (height) screening for individual applicants for placement in aircraft.
“Studies have shown that women’s perceptions about being fully qualified for a job makes them less likely to apply, even though there is a waiver option,” said Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, Air Force mobility planner and programmer and team leader on the Women’s Initiative Team who led the height standards adjustment effort. “Modifying the height standard allows the Air Force to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints.”
Increased mentorship, guidance in Undergraduate Pilot Training
At 19th Air Force, several initiatives have been undertaken to identify and eliminate structural bias undergraduate flying training pipeline processes and syllabi in order to better foster an environment of dignity, respect, mentorship and inclusion through improved dialogue, training and professional development.
One such initiative that helps UPT students from underrepresented groups is the management of class and instructor assignments to increase mutual support, and provide role models and better mentorship opportunities during training.
“We recognize it is a challenge when some Airmen can’t see themselves in positions of leadership,” Webb said. “If you can’t see yourself, or someone that looks like you in a leadership position, it’s hard to strive for those positions, and that limits our diversity and effectiveness as leaders.”
Professional development in the area of diversity and inclusion for officers in flying training is also being expanded with the development of two new Profession of Arms courses called PA 102 and 103.
“Creating lasting culture change in the Air Force means diversity and inclusion education can’t be a ‘one and done’ issue,” Webb said. “Students will gain experience leading diverse groups of Airmen as part of these classes early on in UPT, which will be followed with an advanced course to address deeper topics later in UPT.”
Currently in review, on approval, both courses will be added to the UPT syllabus as required training for all students.
Actions to create formalized feedback from students to improve the culture in the flying training environment are also in different phases of implementation. Student pilots will soon have a digital feedback application that enables them to provide real-time, direct feedback about instructors and leaders, after flying events. Students are also able to give feedback on issues or concerns in the training environment.
Additionally, student advocate positions assigned to UPT wings’ human performance teams have been created at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., and JBSA-Randolph, with the goal of having a position at each UPT base. The advocates will offer independent support to students who feel they need assistance with adjusting to the flying culture, or who perceive an issue of being treated with dignity and respect.
Reviews of all current UPT syllabi is complete, and a courseware review is ongoing and expected to be complete by July 2021. Examples of content being targeted during the reviews include publications that could be outdated for today’s societal norms, or that contain verbiage or images considered not conducive to an inclusive learning environment for a diverse racial and ethnic community.
Removing disparity in military justice, administrative discipline
Following January’s Department of the Air Force decision to track data from lesser disciplinary actions to assist in determining whether all discipline is being carried out in a fair and impartial manner, AETC officials have created a database to track demographics of Airmen who issue and receive discipline. The purpose of the database is to aid commanders in seeing disciplinary trends in their organizations and in developing Airmen within their organizations to become better supervisors.
The new database tool is currently in beta testing at one AETC installation, with the goal of command-wide implementation and sharing across the Air Force.
“This tool will aid commanders in getting to the ‘why’ in disciplinary actions to help the affected service member, the supervisory chain, and ultimately, the greater unit,” Webb said. “The goal is to ensure all Airmen and Guardians are treated fairly and this database provides commanders insight to facilitate positive practices, such as increased mentoring and professional development.”