KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
In the Air Force Reserve, the purpose of Unit Training Assemblies is pretty self-explanatory. It’s one weekend a month (customarily) when Airmen from all over assemble with their unit for training to ensure readiness in the event our nation calls.
While a lot of that training does look like donning MOPP gear or “battle rattle,” firing weapons, refreshing each other on self-aid/buddy care, and hands-on, job-specific tasks, there is more to becoming a Reserve Ready Airman than the easily perceptible.
The 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, welcomed the Air Force Reserve Command’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, G. Lee Floyd, June 4-6, for the purpose of leading Air Force-mandated Cross-Cultural and Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Training.
“Be honest with me,” Floyd asked each group to open the training. “Give me your thoughts and opinions about having to be here.”
While for some, the training was a welcome break from the oppressive Mississippi heat steaming off the freshly rained-on flight line, and others expressed cognizance of a problem and willingness to make the most of the two-hour session, there were others who simply couldn’t understand the need.
“Honestly, I was excited for it,” said Master Sgt. Lorenzo Franklin of the 403rd Wing Equal Opportunity office. “I love training that enables dialogue, and sometimes even tension, which is okay, and I’ve heard Mr. Floyd talk before, so I knew it would be good.”
In the ensuing 120 minutes, Floyd presented a number of different scenarios and exercises inciting and facilitating discussions between Airmen from all manner of backgrounds.
“What I want individuals to take out of the training is that they have a responsibility in regards to diversity and inclusion,” he said. “That responsibility is that you need to ensure that you don’t become a barrier to someone else’s progression.”
He also provided definitions and insight on diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias and more, asking for and providing examples, allowing Airmen to reflect on biases and stereotypes they might apply to people upon first encounter.
“We’re hoping the masses buy into (chief of AFRC) General Scobee’s vision of diversity and inclusion to the point that it becomes ingrained into the fiber of everything we do,” said Lee. “We’re hoping people start acting upon this training, evaluating relationships and building a much sounder, more unified core.”
The best way to see a measurable impact made on the total force with this training and continued training in the future will be retention and accessioning of minorities and more minorities in leadership positions, said Floyd.
As for on the wing level, Franklin said he hopes to see accountability come about as well as more conversation and confrontation of issues that arise.
In addition to the interactive approach, Floyd explained the necessity for the training that some questioned in the beginning with statistics gathered by an Air Force Inspector General independent review of racial disparity.
“We need to start understanding that the military may not be the place that people choose to come and work, moving forward,” said Floyd. “There are so many more opportunities and ways to serve outside of the military, so we’ve got to do everything in our power to ensure this is a place where people would want to come and be a part of.”
He said that, Sunday, after his final of nine sessions over the weekend, 85-90% of the wing’s members will have received the training, something no other wing in the command is able to say. He said that benchmark speaks volumes about the wing leadership here, to make it such a priority and ask him to provide or conduct the training.
“This training was a good start,” said Franklin. “It shows that those at the highest level of Air Force leadership acknowledge there are issues and are serious about addressing them, but we need more than one two-hour class to get people comfortable with these discussions we need to have.”
For now, this D&I training is a one-time mandatory course for members of the Air Force, but Floyd foresees more training such as a more concentrated approach to unconscious bias awareness. Also, any incoming reserve wing, group, and squadron commanders as well as all chief master sergeants must go through D&I training with him at AFRC headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
“To get where we want to be as an Air Force and Space Force, it’s going to take commitment from all and dedication to change,” he said. “It’s going to take a concerted effort.”