Air Force spurs communication at diversity senior working group

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force officials met with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, industry leaders and other service representatives during the service's diversity senior working group here Oct. 17 through 18.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Adm. Mike Mullen both spoke to the group, during which the admiral shared his personal experiences with diversity during his adolescence and early Navy years.

A 1968 Naval Academy graduate, Admiral Mullen credited the military with exposing him to different backgrounds, but he recalled stories of a relatively sheltered life growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs.

"I left California one time as a kid, but didn't see much of the world," he said. "(I grew up in a) nice small middle-class town, (with) nice, small schools."

Admiral Mullen said he returned home for a few weeks after completing his freshman year at the Academy in August 1965 -- which happened to coincide with the riots in Watts, a predominately African-American neighborhood in LA.

"I'm 15 miles from Watts and it is burning down, and I don't have a clue," Admiral Mullen said. "It could've been the moon to me, 15 miles away."

The admiral noted that such memories have inspired his commitment to keep diversity a top Department of Defense priority and to help foster visible success stories of women and minorities versus abstract programs.

"The metric for me is a young man or woman who can look up and see they have hope in this organization; if they work hard, they can compete and someday be like that," Admiral Mullen said.

The admiral also said the level of commitment demonstrated by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and General Schwartz is critical in facing the challenge of diversity.

During the second day of the senior working group, General Schwartz echoed Admiral Mullen's sense of urgency in addressing diversity issues.

"These are things that require intervention and personal commitment," General Schwartz said. "If we want our Air Force to be different, it requires that each one of us take action. We cannot just hope for the best. We need to be activists, and we need to be bolder."

The general described diversity not only as a personal mission, but also as an institutional imperative. He said he envisions diversity as a lasting Air Force effort that pervades the force, providing better access to a larger talent pool.

General Schwartz said leaders at all levels of the Air Force must help spread the word that "we're better off as a team than we are as 'singletons,' and that the relevance and durability of our institution depends on a diverse force."

The senior-level working group of Air Force leaders and industry experts discussed and reviewed ideas to be presented at upcoming Air Force Diversity Committee meetings for action.