KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Since the death of George Floyd, discussing and addressing racial injustice throughout the ranks has become an important part of our total mission success.
U.S. Air Force senior leadership has prompted all servicemembers to take the time to learn and show humility by addressing racial blind spots and looking inward, at every echelon of command, so we emerge stronger as a profession of arms.
"I think it’s important for me, as a commander, to publically and promptly acknowledge to my squadron that there is a problem," said Maj. Jennifer Rogers, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander. "I use social media and a squadron-wide email to express my thoughts on what had been happening in the United States. Over two days, I attended 21 roll calls across all of my flights with my first sergeant and squadron superintendent to make my perspective very clear."
For Rogers, her perspective is crystal clear.
"I have personnel affected and/or who know people affected by recent events, and I wanted them to know it’s okay to feel what and how they feel," Rogers said. "I support an environment where individuals can speak to each other about difficult subjects in a respectful and dignified manner, where differing opinions and perspectives are valued and where my Airmen trust their leadership."
Rogers continued by explaining what’s not tolerated is racism or discrimination of any kind, and if anyone feels discriminated against, she wants them to feel that it’s okay to tell their leadership or the Equal Opportunity office, so appropriate action can occur to hold members accountable.
Additionally, the 18th EMS has held nine small group discussions in an open forum facilitated by Airmen who have personally experienced discrimination in their careers.
"We need to talk about racial disparity and discrimination more often and small groups are a great format for individuals who haven’t experienced or don’t understand discrimination/racism to gain perspective and understand why recent events are so important and need to be acknowledged," Rogers said.
During the small group discussions, Rogers explained that personal experiences and accounts were discussed and how she felt by hearing these stories.
"I was sad and concerned, especially for the younger Airmen, by what I heard in the discussions," She said. "I’m enough of an idealist to hope we have evolved enough and that the younger generation of Airmen would have it better. But no, discrimination and racism still exist. Maybe not on the grand scale of 60 years ago, but people are still sending insensitive texts and saying inappropriate things, oblivious to the effect they have on the individual they are disrespecting and isolating."
Recent events involving racial injustice and discrimination has caused leaders like Rogers to focus on ensuring inappropriate activity isn’t occurring and will never be tolerated.
"On one hand, it’s disappointing that we have to be motivated by recent events to focus on something so important," she said. "On the other hand, recent events have created momentum toward positive change and awareness. It’s important we utilize this time and these events as a catalyst to correcting systemic issues within the military, so everyone feels valued and respected."
In order to ensure members continually feel valued, respected and safe, the 18th EMS has established monthly forums to continue the conversation.
"The monthly open forum continues the conversation about racial disparity," explained Rogers. "I want to give my personnel a safe space to speak about their personal experiences, vent, learn differing perspectives, and seek mentorship without feeling judged. We’ve also set up an anonymous feedback page on our squadron SharePoint site. We’ve established a re-education opportunity for members focusing on the front line supervisors and we plan on keeping racial disparity and discrimination as topics for our next resiliency day event."
Rogers continued by expressing how necessary the work is at continuing to actively seek change.
"If these discussions and open forums were just a ‘check the box’ event, then my Airmen wouldn’t see how serious they are," Rogers said. "It’s important to me that my Airmen understand why we’re having these discussions. Discrimination and racism impact people’s lives, their self-worth, and/or their relationships. I need my squadron to function as a team, to have personnel who can rely on each other to make the mission happen, and to trust each other as well as their leadership."
After participating in so many possibly uncomfortable and serious conversations, Rogers explained how she is ensuring no members of her squadron are victims of racial inequality.
"It’s all about words and actions," she said. "I’ve stated my position on discrimination during work center roll calls and during the squadron’s monthly newcomer’s briefings. Zero tolerance. Any discrimination or harassment claim brought to my attention is investigated and addressed, whether through disciplinary measures or counseling."
"I truly believe the way to stop it within my own organization is through education and accountability," she continued. "People need to recognize their implicit biases, myself included, acknowledge them and change them. If they can’t, it’s my job to hold them accountable. The E.O. office has provided us with great resources on how to identify and address unconscious/implicit bias, and we’ve been utilizing those resources to do better for our Airmen."