The secretary of the Air Force and the Air and Space Forces service chiefs ordered the review June 2. The measure formalized a step that former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein raised in an official note to commanders and other senior leaders on June 1 addressing an "apparent inequity in our application of military justice" among other issues. He stated, "We will not shy away from this; as leaders and as airmen, we will own our part, and confront it head on."
In a June 3 open letter to all airmen and space professionals signed by the Air Force Secretary and the two service chiefs, the leadership team highlighted the department's self-initiated review and wrote, "We are listening, and we are taking action."
The inspector general's review focused specifically on assessing racial disparity in military discipline processes and personnel development and career opportunities as they pertain to Black/African American airmen and space professionals.
According to Air Force IG officials, the narrow focus related to Black/African American airmen and space professionals was necessary to enable a prompt, yet thorough, assessment, but the subsequent efforts to be undertaken as a result of the review will not be exclusive to a single minority group.
"Although release of this report took longer than we originally planned, we're confident that the lessons we will learn and the plans in development to further examine disparities will provide benefit to all of our airmen and space professionals," Lt. Gen. Sami Said, Air Force Inspector General, said.
Additionally, Said explained that it is important to underscore that the review was focused on assessing racial disparity within the Air Force and was not chartered to determine whether or not racial bias or discrimination is present. Such an examination would require a much deeper study and a broader look at American society in general, which was outside the defined scope of the review, according to Said.
The IG review also did not focus on root cause analyses for any racial disparities found during the review due to the considerable time this would have added to completing the report. Instead, the intent was that root cause analyses would follow completion of the review, as necessary.
The review's methodology included an empirical examination of Air Force military justice data dating back to 2012; career development and opportunity data involving civilian, enlisted and officer ranks; and a review of all pertinent personnel and legal Air Force instructions and related publications. Additionally, the IG analyzed individual perspectives from a departmentwide IG racial disparity survey that garnered more than 123,000 responses, including more than 27,000 pages of feedback from members; conducted formal interviews of senior leaders, subject matter experts and service members; held 138 in-person 'boots-on-the-ground' listening sessions with more than 1,300 airmen and space professionals from across all major commands; and interviewed command teams at 20 installations. Finally, the IG team reexamined 23 past studies and reports involving race and demographics in the military.
The review confirmed that racial disparity exists for Black/African American airmen and space professionals in the areas of military discipline and career developmental opportunities. Specifically, varying degrees of disparity were identified in apprehensions, criminal investigations, military justice, administrative separations, placement into occupational career fields, certain promotion rates, officer and civilian professional military educational development and some leadership opportunities.
According to the report, the data do not address why racial disparities exist in these areas, and that while the data shows race is a correlating factor, it does not necessarily indicate causality.
The review also found that no racial disparities appear to exist within the areas of accessions, retention, or enlisted professional military education, and there were no inherent, systemic or procedural biases found in Air Force personnel and legal guidance pertaining to discipline.
The IG report defines racial disparity as "existing when the proportion of a racial/ethnic group within the subset of the population is different from the proportion of such groups in the general population." It goes on to state that while the presence of a disparity alone is not evidence of racism, discrimination, or disparate treatment, it presents a concern that requires more in-depth analysis. Key stakeholders within the Air Force and Space Force have now been tasked to identify the root causes of these disparities.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett applauded those who took time to contribute to the in-depth review and emphasized that work remains to be done.
"Thank you to the tens of thousands of Air and Space Force members who related their personal experiences, both favorable and unfavorable" Barrett said. "The IG review identified racial disparities within military justice and developmental programs. Now, we're analyzing root causes and taking appropriate actions to address these causes. These actions will include evaluating potential barriers to inclusion, expanding mentorship programs, and exploring ways to inspire and attract diverse youth to join the Air Force and Space Force."
Although the review's primary focus was on identifying the degree to which racial disparity is present, the IG team conducting the review received a large volume of firsthand accounts of experiences with bias, as well as individual acts of racism. According to the report, while it is impossible to validate experiences reported during feedback sessions or within the survey, the themes that emerged from the feedback make it reasonable to conclude that individual acts of racism have occurred in the Air Force.
Additionally, the review highlighted feedback from a significant number of Black airmen who voiced distrust in their chain of command to address racism, bias and unequal opportunities within the Air Force. The majority of Black survey respondents also felt that Black/African American airmen are not given the benefit of the doubt by their chain of command when it comes to military discipline.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. acknowledged the critical feedback and the need to build and maintain trust between our airmen and space professionals and their chain of command.
"The IG's survey and interviews are noteworthy in that they empowered airmen and space professionals to provide their unfiltered personal perspectives and experiences, and they delivered loud and clear," Brown said. "Racial disparity isn't an easy topic, and something we don't traditionally talk about much throughout our levels of command. This report and the many engagements with airmen and space professionals have increased chain of command awareness and an opportunity to build trust. Now, we must all move forward with meaningful, lasting and sustainable change to do so."
Notably, at Barrett's request, the IG's review provides a preliminary road map for addressing racial disparity. In accordance with the report's recommendations, the department has begun root cause analyses and will provide updated action plans, as appropriate, to the Secretary and Air and Space Force service chiefs.
The Air Force Inspector General will conduct a progress report six months after the report's initial publication, followed by an annual review. Both of these assessments will be publicly released and provided to all airmen and space professionals, according to the report.
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John "Jay" Raymond underscored the importance of diversity and the need for leaders at every echelon to do their part to ensure all airmen and space professionals feel included and empowered to maximize their talents.
"Accountability begins with us, and we have the opportunity to create a culture that inherently values diversity and inclusion," Raymond said. "Leaders at all levels must commit to having tough conversations, learning about racial disparities and identifying their part in creating an environment where all people have the same opportunities for success, an environment where every person is heard, every person is seen and every person is valued."
Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
Concurrent with the IG's review, Air Force senior leaders conducted multiple listening sessions with Air Force and Space Force members to gain additional insight and perspectives.
Additionally, the department instituted a task force to comprehensively address the issue of racial, ethnic, gender and other demographic differences and their impact on the Air and Space Forces.
Since June, the task force has facilitated additional tracking of administrative discipline data, to include demographics; increased ROTC scholarships at historically Black colleges and universities; revised dress and appearance regulations; acceptance of a SuperScore combination for the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, which gives the applicant the opportunity to use his or her highest score from each part of the test; created partnerships with African American fraternities and sororities and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; established a sixth team as part of the Barrier Analysis Working group (Asian-American/Pacific Islander); and will initiate the Department's new "GO Inspire" program in January designed to increase Air and Space Force general officer outreach to youth to increase diversity in operational career fields and the broader force.
In October, the task force transitioned into the Diversity and Inclusion Office, which will report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force. The IG's report recommends that this office also review the report's findings and assess applicability to broader diversity and inclusion initiatives.