The Air Force is about to start surveying airmen about race and their experiences in the service as part of a broader review of racial equality, opportunities and injustice.
In a release Monday, the Air Force said airmen and space professionals — including officers, enlisted and civilians — will receive an email survey in the next few days that will allow them to respond anonymously.
This survey, conducted by the Air Force Survey Office, will tie in to the inspector general’s two-phase review of racial disparities in the service, concentrating on Black airmen. The Air Force announced this review earlier this month in the wake of a scathing report from the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders that found young Black enlisted men in the Air Force were punished at a far greater rate than their white counterparts, as well as the nationwide conversation on race that unfolded after the death of George Floyd and widespread protests against police brutality.
The Air Force said in the release that it wants to give airmen the chance to make their own voices heard, share their experiences regarding race in the service, and suggest solutions. The Air Force Survey Office will conduct the survey.
“Our report will tell it like it is, good or bad,” the Air Force said in the release. “And, once the report is complete, it will be widely and publicly available.”
The first phase of the IG’s review will examine how Black airmen are disproportionately affected by the military justice and discipline process, the Air Force said Monday. The second phase will focus on Black airmen and racial disparities in how officer, enlisted and civilian leaders are chosen and developed.
The Air Force said those two areas will just be the beginning of a broader review of racial disparities, and that future phases of the review will consider challenges faced by airmen of races other than Black.
“We recognize other disparities exist, and these should be reviewed as well,” the release said. “However, for this immediate effort to be effective and result in lasting and meaningful change, it must be narrowly targeted. The efforts that will be undertaken upon the completion of this review will not be exclusive to a single minority group.”
The IG team conducting the review has also started collecting existing information on race in the Air Force from previous studies and databases. But while that data is helpful, the release said, hearing directly from airmen will be more valuable.
“It is critical that we hear from you because you are a central part of the solution,” the Air Force said.
After the death of George Floyd and the rapid spread of protests, the Air Force was the first of the U.S. services whose leaders began speaking forcefully about the issues of racial equality. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright posted a lengthy thread about his experiences as a Black enlisted leader in which he declared, “I am George Floyd.”
Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, in a memo announcing the IG review, also denounced Floyd’s death during an encounter with Minneapolis police as a “national tragedy” and said “every American should be outraged” at the conduct of police. Goldfein and Wright then held a virtual town hall online to talk about racial issues in the Air Force.
Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, who will become the next chief of staff in August, posted an emotional video in which he talked about being a Black man, and one of the relatively small number of Black pilots in the Air Force. Brown will be the first Black man in U.S. history to serve as chief of staff of a military service.
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.