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Air Force thrives on respect for diversity

WASHINGTON -- Air Force leaders said the service’s capability to function as a team and accomplish its mission depends on respecting diversity.

Leaders reinforced that basic tenet in light of recent feedback from U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who said they felt pressured to participate in religious activities that were not in line with their own personal beliefs.

Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr. reported the feedback to the school's board of visitors meeting Nov. 16 in Washington.

In surveys done in August, more than 30 percent of non-Christian students said Christian cadets are given preferential treatment, while less than 10 percent of Christian students felt that way. Only a little more than half of non-Christian students reported they "have not felt pressure to be involved in religion" at the academy.

General Rosa said many cadets do not realize they might be crossing a line when they talk about religion with others and the academy intends to address the problem by continuing to educate cadets about religious accommodation and respect.

That aspect of education is not new; it is a reinforcement of the service’s commitment to military equal opportunity. The MEO program seeks to eliminate unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment against Airmen based on race, color, sex, national origin or religion.

“Our policy is clear: tolerance of gender, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity is required in our Air Force,” said Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche. “There is absolutely no room for slurs or other offensive comments or behaviors.

"Our expectation for the entire Air Force is simple: we respect each other and take care of each other, period. Our capability to function as a team is dependent on appreciating and respecting our diversity. It is this mutual respect that strengthens our ability to protect America," the secretary said.

“I am grateful General Rosa brought this issue to our attention,” Secretary Roche said. “(Air Force Chief of Staff) Gen. (John P.) Jumper and I are confident the academy leadership team will handle this with the same decisiveness and fairness they have used in dealing with other sensitive issues. General Jumper and I stand ready to provide any assistance General Rosa needs, and we will stay in close touch with him as the academy deals with this issue.”

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles C. Baldwin, chief of the Air Force Chaplain Service, explained how the service strives to meet the spiritual needs of Airmen worldwide.

“We make sure our training centers -- the academy, basic military training school at Lackland Air Force Base Texas, and the officer training school at Maxwell AFB, Ala. -- are staffed at 100 percent to meet the religious needs of our Airmen,” Chaplain Baldwin said.

The manpower office of the chaplain service regularly evaluates the Air Force population by religious denomination to determine needs. There are two accession boards each year under which the service can hire chaplains, rabbis, or imams. Air Force chaplains also meet every month with their peers from the other services to review and plan how to fill requirements in deployed unified command locations.

No matter what religious preference an Airman may have, there is no room for religious discrimination, Chaplain Baldwin said.

“Our instructions include a code of ethics that requires chaplains to respect all faiths and work without judgment in a religiously pluralistic environment,” he said. “We have no tolerance for religious discrimination.”

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