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Goldfein: ‘Something broke loose’ in the Air Force after George Floyd’s death

Now is the time for the Air Force to “put on the gas” and move toward racial equality across the service, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein.

“Two things happened with the brutal killing of George Floyd: Something broke on the streets of America, and America responded as Americans do, which is to gather together and protest a wrong,” Goldfein said during a virtual event with the Brookings Institution Wednesday.

“But the second thing that happened is something broke loose in the United States Air Force,” Goldfein said. “And what broke loose is an opportunity for us to make long-term, meaningful and lasting change that quite frankly we should have been doing before.”

George Floyd — a Black man — was slain by a white Minneapolis police officer in May. Now ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, faces a second-degree murder charge and three other former officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

In response to Floyd’s death and a report from an advocacy group about racial disparities in the Air Force’s justice system, the service started taking steps to eradicate racial inequality in the service.

For example, the service announced on June 22 that the Air Force Survey Office would anonymously survey airmen and space professionals via email about race and compile a report that will be publicly available and “tell it like it is.”

That’s in conjunction with the Air Force Inspector General’s investigation into racial inequality that will also be publicly accessible. The review will first examine how the military justice and disciplinary process unequally impacts Black airmen, along with a second evaluation on racial discrepancies regarding how officer, enlisted and civilian leaders are selected and developed.

Air Force IG Lt. Gen. Sami Said told Air Force Times last month that IG teams will visit at least 20 Air Force bases to speak with airmen about their experiences in the service concerning racial inequality.

The first phase of the report could be released by the end of July, and the second could come out the end of September, according to Said. Alternatively, they could be merged into one report released at the end of August, he said.

“The measures that we’ve put in place, that we’re working on are long-term, aggressive measures to change the demographic to ensure we are building a culture of inclusiveness at the squadron level, which is where it matters the most, and that we are arming command teams with the tools they need to shift this,” Goldfein said.

But the Air Force must work to ensure it doesn’t shift its focus as other issues emerge later this year, according to Goldfein.

“History is not on our side here,” Goldfein said. “If we follow history, we’ll get a few things going, and then September will arrive and COVID will return, and flu season will start, and hurricane season will hit … and the election will go into high gear, and we will get distracted and we will put this on the back burner. Shame on us if we let that happen.”

“I’ve talked to commanders across the Air Force and said, ‘Let’s commit right now to making history wrong on this one,‘ ” Goldfein said., “That we have the staying power to take the actions that we need to going forward.”

Goldfein, who is retiring from the service this summer, will be replaced by Gen. Charles Q. Brown, who will become the first Black military service chief Aug. 6.

“It became very clear to me that the most capable officer on my team to replace me was CQ Brown,” Goldfein said.

“It’s going to be fun actually to hand the flag to a good friend and a great, great officer to take this Air Force to newer heights,” Goldfein said.

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