The Air Force has launched a task force to look for, and change, policies or procedures unfairly hurting minorities or other underrepresented airmen.
In a Thursday release, the Air Force said the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force is already putting into place increased ROTC scholarship opportunities for minorities, revised regulations on dress and appearance, produced a new video on unconscious bias training, and lengthened the shaving waivers that are most often used by Black airmen.
The task force is looking for problems that can be solved in the near term, and result in quick improvements to the lives of airmen — particularly minority airmen. It is directed by Brig. Gen. Troy Dunn, the Air Force’s director of military force policy.
The task force was set up June 9, a week after the service ordered its inspector general to review racial imbalances in its justice system and career advancement opportunities, and how they affect Black airmen. The move came in the wake of the death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police and the protests that followed
Air Force leadership, including current and future chiefs of staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, last month released statements denouncing racism and pledging to improve opportunities for minority airmen.
“Clearly we have to acknowledge our Air and Space Forces are not immune from racism and the challenges of inequity,” Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly said in the release. “As a force that depends on unity, inclusion and a common strength of purpose, we are committed to being better every day until all within our ranks feel a true sense of belonging that allows them to maximize their talents. This is why we stood up the task force, to move out quickly and deliver immediate improvements for our services.”
The task force will focus on five areas: culture and policy; education, training and testing; recruiting and accessions; workforce diversity; and aircrew diversity.
Its members will include airmen from different ranks and perspectives, from both minority and majority groups, the release said. It will also have both uniformed service members and civilians from the Air Force and Space Force with expertise in the areas being considered for changes.
“We have a unique and historical opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of our airmen and space professionals,” Dunn said. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working quietly behind the scenes to tackle these issues. Though we have a long road ahead, I’m really proud of the work this team has done. We want our people to know that we’re steadfast in our commitment to building an Air Force culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging.”
The task force is working to increase scholarship opportunities for almost 300 current and future ROTC cadets attending historically Black colleges or universities, or institutions serving Hispanic students. Those recipients will receive full scholarships, including tuition and fees, starting this fall. This is intended to increase minority representation in the officer ranks, which has typically lagged in the Air Force, the release said. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 40 percent of the United States population, but 24 percent of Air Force officers.
The task force also revised the Air Force Instruction governing dress and personal appearance to remove subjective language such as “faddish” and references to complexion. Shaving waivers for airmen with pseudofolliculitis barbae — a medical condition commonly suffered by Black men that causes painful ingrown facial hairs — last month were lengthened from one year to five years. The revised regulation also now allows men to wear their hair parted, whether cut, clipped or shaved, and allows name tapes to include diacritical accents.
In addition to the unconscious bias training video, the task force is also working with Cornell University to enroll members of the Air Force’s barrier analysis working group in an online diversity and inclusion certificate program.
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.