Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass on Thursday delivered a strong message to airmen who think it’s funny to harass or disrespect their fellow airmen: “Respect is non-negotiable.”
In a series of tweets and on her Facebook page, Bass responded to a Sept. 4 op-ed in Air Force Times by Staff Sgt. Heather Fejerang about the harassment she and her sister received after the Air Force wrote a story about them deploying together to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Fejerang wrote that she and her sister, Capt. Monica Clements, were excited to see the story of their “sisterly bond” told, and eagerly shared the article on their social media pages. But other “troll” sites focusing on smaller military units or communities, such as “People of the Deid," also began to share and mock the article, Fejerang said.
Fejerang wasn’t surprised by the sexual harassment and lewd insinuations that followed in the comment sections, she said.
“I’m used to those,” she wrote. “I’m conditioned to expect those anytime a woman on the cover of a story that doesn’t include some overt, heroic act is plastered onto Facebook. That’s the unfortunate culture that we have created — one where women must earn their keep by tolerating sexual harassment.”
But what truly dismayed Fejerang was the “victim-blaming” comments from professionals and people close to her, who implied the people who published or posted the story were to blame for inviting the inappropriate comments — not those who made the comments themselves.
In her tweet thread, Bass said that she had her staff put her in touch with Fejerang after she read the op-ed several weeks ago. Bass said she applauded Fejerang for how she and her sister handled “being disrespected by our brothers and sisters in arms,” and apologized for how their fellow service members behaved.
“RESPECT is foundational to our profession,” Bass tweeted. “It’s an imperative. We all have a personal responsibility to respect others and respect ourselves."
The Air Force needs a culture “that embraces diversity and is deliberate about inclusion,” Bass wrote, and “where our Airmen can focus on the profession of arms that they willingly chose to serve. And a culture where our Airmen are valued, respected, and see a future for themselves.”
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.