Thursday, November 20, 2008

COMMENTARY>>Diversity matters in the Air Force

By Chief Master Sgt. Richard Turcotte
314th Airlift Wing command chief

Hopefully everyone has had a chance to take a look at this week’s “Roll Call” on diversity. The Air Force has played a significant role in diversity and has championed many initiatives ensuring fair and equitable treatment throughout our history as a service. For most of us, we view diversity in general terms as age, race, ethnicity and gender. The Air Force, however, categorizes diversity into four dimensions to facilitate understanding.

The first dimension is demographic diversity – one most are familiar with – for example, what religious faith one belongs to or whether married or not. Conceptually, the Air Force is a dichotomy or slide of good old-fashioned America. This is, in my opinion, what makes us such a great service and a great nation – our ability to capitalize on individual strengths, different cultural backgrounds and personal experiences and values to form one cohesive body that fosters character of heart and mind while internalizing our Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service and Excellence in completion of the mission.

The second dimension and the one least talked about is that of cognitive diversity. How one goes about a certain task or how one’s thought process differs depending on learned ability. You have all heard the sayings “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or “that’s the way we have always done things.” Nothing can stifle innovation and creativity faster than the status quo or being satisfied with just doing your job. In today’s Air Force, we can ill afford to be just “OK.” We must continuously strive for improvement through this cognitive approach to diversity by exploiting all forms of thought, training technologies and diverse approaches to problem solving. There is no such thing as a bad idea; we just have to find a place to make it useful.

Our third dimension is defined as structural diversity which refers to organizational characteristics. As we continue to become more joint in our force make-up, we must capitalize on this area in terms of force multipliers and our ability to utilize training and services that were traditionally stovepiped in one particular service. We have seen great examples of this throughout our Joint Sourcing Solutions tasking to assist sister services and the combatant commanders in the Global War on Terrorism.

Traditional roles are now crossing into all service components – strengthening our ability to exploit the battle space.

The fourth and final dimension deals with global diversity. The world is a much smaller place, and as we continue to strengthen our world position, we must be ever vigilant in our relationship building with friendly nations. As the world’s only remaining superpower, we are charged with the protection, security and economies of the free world. We must rely on our allies and take an active role in understanding different cultural belief systems. We must expand how we view the world and strengthen how the world views us.

As you can see, diversity has many forms and all contribute to the total strength of our Air Force. I would challenge each of us to look within our workcenters, communities, cultures, professional organizations and cross-functional areas to champion those differences that enable us. I would also like to encourage all of us to step outside of our comfort zones from time to time to try and increase awareness and understanding of those things that we are unfamiliar with. It’s been said that we are either “green and growing or ripe and rotting.” Which one are you?


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