The first sergeant of the Air Force Academy’s cadet wing sent an email on cadet grooming standards Wednesday that included racially tinged language, prompting a rebuke from academy leadership.
Master Sgt. Zachary Parish emailed cadets that morning about a perceived decline in some cadets’ grooming, and reminding both male and female cadets about the rules governing their hair.
The first sergeant concluded his email by reminding them about former NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s habit of appearing at press conferences in a suit and tie, even without a dress code requiring it.
“He was never seen with a gaudy chain around his neck, his pants below his waistline, or with a backwards baseball hat on during public appearances,” Parish said.
Col. Julian Stephens, vice commandant of cadets for culture and climate, sent another email that afternoon apologizing for Parish’s email.
“These comments were very disrespectful, derogatory and unprofessional and in no way reflective of [cadet wing leadership] views,” Stephens wrote. “Microaggressions such as these are often blindspots/unintentional biases that are not often recognized, and if they are recognized they are not always addressed.”
Stephens said that the academy’s senior leadership “is aware and will promptly address the situation.”
The emails were first posted on the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page.
Academy spokesman Meade Warthen confirmed the emails were sent.
“The comments were inappropriate,” Warthen said. “We have a responsibility for how we communicate, and if anyone feels disrespected by someone’s words, we take that very seriously. We need to take responsibility immediately and learn from it as we move forward. The chain of command addressed the incident with those involved and the commandant is working with her staff to ensure that dignity and respect are upheld at every level in the cadet wing.”
It is not the first time in recent months Air Force Academy leadership has had to confront racial issues. In September, racial slurs were discovered outside the dorm rooms of five black cadet candidates in the academy’s preparatory school. An investigation later found that one of those cadet candidates was the one who wrote the slurs.
But immediately after the slurs were found, academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria delivered a forceful speech to cadets declaring zero tolerance for the display of racist attitudes.
“Just in case you’re unclear about where I stand on this topic ... if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” Silveria said.
The same day as the email controversy erupted, CNN published an op-ed by Silveria on the importance of diversity in the military, and how it makes the Air Force more effective.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.