Racial Disparity Review: Air Force, Air Force Reserve take focused step toward equal treatment for all

The Department of the Air Force released its report on the findings of an Air Force Inspector General independent review into racial disparity Dec. 21, 2020. The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air and Space Forces service chiefs ordered the review June 2. (U.S. Air Force courtesy graphic)

The Department of the Air Force released its report on the findings of an Air Force Inspector General independent review into racial disparity Dec. 21, 2020. The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air and Space Forces service chiefs ordered the review June 2. (U.S. Air Force courtesy graphic)


Following a tumultuous spring and summer of 2020 marked by civil unrest, protests and demonstrations across the country, the Air Force and Air Force Reserve embarked on a journey to focus more on diversity, inclusion, equal treatment for all Airmen and improved race relations within the ranks.

As an initial step, last June the secretary of the Air Force and the Air and Space Forces service chiefs ordered an Air Force Inspector General independent review into racial disparity. The IG 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. The narrow focus was necessary to enable a prompt yet thorough assessment. Subsequent efforts to be undertaken as a result of the review will not be exclusive to a single minority group.

In July, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC commander and chief of the Air Force Reserve, ordered an Air Force Reserve Racial Disparity Review to examine Reserve-unique processes to supplement the Air Force-wide review.

“While the Air Force Racial Disparity Review includes the Air Force Reserve, I thought it was important that we take a closer look at all of those things that make the Reserve unique through the lens of racial equality to ensure that all of our Reserve Citizen Airmen are being treated fairly and have all the same opportunities,” Scobee said on Jan. 8 as he and other senior leaders received a briefing on Phase 1 of the AFRC Racial Disparity Review. Phase 1 focused on identifying Reserve-unique programs and policies that require review. Phase 2, which is scheduled to run through June of this year, will focus on completing process assessments and implementing countermeasures.

The Reserve Racial Disparity Review Board is looking at a host of programs and processes from a racial equality perspective, including the Reserve Brigadier General Qualification Board, colonel assignments, administrative separations and other adverse actions, potential biases in hiring practices, position vacancy promotions and award recognition rates, among others.

In releasing its report on the findings of the IG review in December, the Air Force confirmed that racial disparity exists for Black/African-American Airmen and Space Professionals in the areas of military discipline and career development 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 does 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.

“I think it’s really important to note that the Air Force report provided us with the ‘what,’ but it didn’t reveal the ‘why,’” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White, AFRC’s command chief master sergeant and Scobee’s senior enlisted advisor. “Finding out why certain groups of people are treated differently will go a long way toward ensuring there is the necessary trust between all Airmen and their leaders in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve.”

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 experience 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 Department of 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 Airmen and Space Professionals and their chains 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,” he 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.”

The IG review provides a preliminary roadmap for addressing racial disparity within the Air Force. As a next step, the Air Force has begun root cause analyses and will provide updated action plans, as appropriate, to the secretary of the Air Force and the Air and Space service chiefs.

The IG will release 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.

Concurrent with the IG’s review, Air Force and Air Force Reserve senior leaders conducted multiple listening sessions with Air and Space Force members to gain additional insight and perspectives.

Additionally, the Air Force stood up 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. Two Reservists, Col. Eltressa Spencer, the director of Air Force Reserve Command’s Commander’s Action Group, and Senior Master Sgt. Kenya Jackson, the aircraft armaments functional manager in AFRC’s Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection Division, serve on the task force.

Since June, the task force has facilitated additional tracking of administrative discipline data, to include demographics; increased Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; revised dress and appearance regulations; advocated for acceptance of a SuperScore combination for the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, which gives the applicant the opportunity to use their 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 initiated the Department’s new “GO Inspire” program 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 D&I initiatives.

Scobee said he was confident the Reserve’s Racial Disparity Review team can help the command reach its goal of ensuring all members of the Reserve team are treated equally and fairly and that they all have the same opportunities for career progression and development.

“If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have told you that I was happy where the Reserve was from a diversity and inclusion standpoint,” he said. “But now, it’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do. The Racial Disparity Review is a good first step toward getting that work done.”

The full Air Force Racial Disparity Review report can be found at https://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/ig/IRDR.pdf. #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient #ReserveReform

(Much of the information in this story was taken from a Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs news story.)

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