JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
“You don’t know the anxiety, the despair, the heartache, the fear, the rage and the disappointment that comes with living in this country, OUR country every single day,” wrote Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright in his commentary, “Who Am I?”
This sentiment is what Lt. Col. Cleveland Hayes, 446th Airlift Wing’s Diversity Working Group chair, emphasized to commanders during a Diversity and Inclusion training held here recently.
“You may not know what your (African-American) Airmen experienced from the time they left their house to the time they entered the base,” said Hayes to senior leaders in attendance.
For 90 minutes, Hayes walked leaders through a series of scenarios and suggested books on race and racism to increase their understanding.
Chief Master Sgt. Cameron Pence, 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent, said it was the discussion on inclusion that made him self-reflect.
“One thing that I am putting more thought into is the difference between equality and equity and what that means in terms of inclusion,” Pence said. “I would say that as a leader, trying to see things from multiple perspectives and asking whether I would perceive the organization as equitable could contribute to a sense of inclusion.”
“In other words, do people feel they have a voice at the table versus just a seat at the table.”
Since the death of George Floyd and the Air Force’s emphasis on having hard conversations about race, commanders from around the wing have held small group discussions to listen to their Reserve Citizen Airmen.
“Having candid conversations at every echelon of command is a necessity, so we can emerge stronger and more unified as a profession of arms,” said Col. Paul Skipworth, 446th Airlift Wing commander. “This is our chance as leaders to listen, learn, and make our organizations better, our profession better. As a profession, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensuring racial discrimination has no place in our Air Force. It starts with listening and then takes shape with action that demonstrates we practice what we preach.”
Hayes recommends leaders must look inward to reflect on internal biases.
“Are there other biases out there and does senior leadership have the capacity to step back and look to see if there’s more to the story,” he said.
Hayes extended his message to junior Reserve Citizen Airmen.
“They (junior Airmen) have a certain responsibility – keep senior leaders honest,” he said. “They need to do the right thing and speak up.”
Pence echoes this sentiment for senior leaders.
“We have the authority and responsibility to drive change, so if we as senior leaders are not taking the opportunity to be more informed, aware and active in fostering a healthy climate around diversity, then we are failing,” Pence said.
The next Diversity and Inclusion session is scheduled during the October UTA in the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron auditorium here. The event is open to all 446th Reserve Citizen Airmen.
In addition to the training, the 446th Diversity Working Group is working with the 62nd Airlift Wing and 627th Air Base Group to conduct diversity focus groups and is seeking Team McChord members to participate. If you are interested, please email Lt. Col. Cleveland Hayes at email@example.com.