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Altus AFB ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ group targets education, discourse

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Capt. Mohamed Dharas, 97th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander, leads a meeting of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., June 8 2021. Dharas is the manager of the D&I program for the base and the group is tasked with providing a foundation for understanding and long-term change for Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

photos on a table

Photos of African American military members are displayed at a table, Feb. 26, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. The photos were one of the many displays at the 97th Air Mobility Wing Black History Expo. The event was one of several assisted by the base Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)

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Airmen from the 97th Air Mobility Wing celebrate at the end of the Altus Air Force Base Color Run, June 25, 2021, at Altus AFB, Okla. Members of the 97th AMW participated in the run as the final event for Pride Month. The event was one of several assisted by the base Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kayla Christenson)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) --

Recruitment is the lifeblood of the United States military. It brings people from different origins and backgrounds together to be trained and assigned to military missions around the world. Similarly, many leaders through the military place great value in diversity and the dynamic elements it infuses into a unit.

The Diversity and Inclusion Working Group at Altus Air Force Base was established in March 2020. It was tasked with providing a foundation for understanding and long-term change for Airmen. Their vision is to lead safe, productive forums on disparities and biases that create lasting avenues of communication and education for all Air Force members. Ultimately, their goal is to raise awareness on issues that affect Airmen, and create a lasting forum for all Airmen that results in respectful discourse.

“The most recent ‘push’ of D&I isn’t a new concept,” said Capt. Mohamed Dharas, 97th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander and Altus AFB D&I Working Group manager. “D&I is important to ensure our military is operating on all cylinders. A room of 100 Capt. Dharas’ wouldn’t work well because there would be too many like-minded people. In order for our military to sustain its dominance, we need to make sure that there is a diverse group of people at the table where big decisions are made.”

The group is also tasked with the planning of monthly special observances on base. One of the group’s active members, Airman 1st Class Amanda Edwards, 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron logistics planner, says that it is vital to understand the perspective of others, while in the armed forces.

“Diversity and inclusion, especially in the military, is important because it provides perspective through a new set of lenses,” Edwards added. “This is essential to have a healthy balance of voices. It gives others the opportunity to deepen the understanding of each other. The military is widely known for its diversity; we recruit individuals from every walk of life. It is only right that we encourage and provide a productive environment to tackle issues and ensure everybody gets the representation they deserve.”

Edwards goes on to explain that through communication and education of one another’s background and culture allows for a more harmonious work environment.

“Unfortunately, D&I seems to have a negative connotation in the workplace due to it being a ‘touchy subject.’ We desire to change that false narrative and educate those who wish to be involved,” Edwards explained. “There are great benefits from implementing D&I that include, but are not limited to: innovation, creativity, happier employees, increased productivity, understanding counterparts, and greater interpersonal relationships.”

The biggest pushes from their group are education and base events that instill inclusion. In order to do this, funding and participation is provided by different private organizations from the base and local community.

“We are working on strengthening our relationship with the community of Altus (AFB) to increase the bonds between the base and community,” Dharas said. “They were a huge reason why we were able to hold our Juneteenth celebration. We look forward to working with the community more to improve the quality of life for Altus (AFB) Airmen, but step one is education to foster a safe environment.”

Dharas and the D&I team discuss topics such as critical race theory, affirmative action, history of special observances and many more subjects that aim to build well-rounded Airmen. They regularly meet every second and fourth Thursday of the month at noon in the Altus AFB exchange multi-purpose room. Anyone with access to the installation is able to join the team to help build the foundation for understanding and long-term change for Airmen.

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