We recently reviewed the Air Force’s Independent Racial Disparity Review, published in December, which focused on disparities affecting Black airmen and provided recommendations to develop action plans addressing them.
The IRDR study presented a significant amount of data that showed racial disparities for Black service members. In terms of military justice, there are inequities in police apprehensions, criminal investigations, administrative separations and more. In terms of equal opportunity, there were troubling statitics regarding placement into occupational career fields, promotion rates, professional military educational development and leadership opportunities.
Because the focus of the report was on issues affecting Blacks, it did not include complete data on Hispanics. Yet, the limited Hispanic data the review did include clearly shows disparities for Hispanics as great or even greater than those affecting Blacks. Consequently, we believe that while the IRDR is a good first step towards addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the Air Force, it is incomplete and its recommendations are premature.
Based on our collective and personal experience as former senior leaders and minority officers, we suggest the Air Force immediately commission another IRDR-type review focusing on the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. Air Force, Hispanic airmen.
This first report provides data on Hispanics for only a few categories of information such as promotion rates and selections for command positions. While the IRDR correctly identifies significant equal opportunity issues facing Black airmen with respect to these two categories of data, the data that is presented clearly shows similar disparities facing Hispanics, but these are not discussed.
For example, IRDR data clearly show underrepresentation of Hispanics in command level positions, in particular, the low selection rate of Hispanic officers to squadron commander and wing commander slots. As acknowledged in the report, these types of assignments are necessary for future advancement in rank. As shown by the data in the report, Hispanic service members are underrepresented in promotions to major through colonel, severely underrepresented in promotions to brigadier general and major general and have zero promotions to the ranks of lieutenant general and general.
While these differences are clearly evident in the report, its narrow focus on issues affecting Black airmen has led to the development of recommendations that may not necessarily address longstanding disparities for Hispanics and other minorities. Also, while the IRDR suggests that the root causes of racial and ethnic disparities should be investigated, it goes on to provide specific corrective recommendations without the benefit of conducting such an analysis. Consequently, we believe that the IRDR should only be considered a “first step” towards promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the Air Force, but more research needs to be done before any actionable recommendations be developed.
Specifically, we believe that the Air Force should immediately commission another IRDR-type review with several structural modifications:
♦ The comprehensive review should be focused on Hispanic service members, as they represent one of the three largest populations in the Air Force.
♦ The review should include surveys and interviews of Hispanic members, as was done for Black members.
♦ The review should capitalize on the existing data to develop actionable recommendations that can be accomplished in the near term.
♦ To support longer-term solutions, the review should seek to identify root causes of lack of diversity, for which additional longitudinal data analyses may be needed.
♦ The review should truly be independent, meaning the chairperson and key leaders of the review should be sourced from outside the Air Force.
Previous published data found the eligible officer population for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino cohorts to be 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively, while the U.S. Hispanic population is 18 percent and growing steadily. Many census forecasts project that the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population will increase from 18 percent to approximately 25 percent over the next 20 to 30 years, so unless steps are taken to identify and correct the disparities in Hispanic representation already identified in the IRDR, the underrepresentation of Hispanics is only going to get worse.
After this review is complete, the Air Force should develop means to ensure accountability for accomplishing the corrective actions recommended by the report. For example, it should form a permanent council or commission charged with monitoring and enforcing the execution of the targeted strategies over time.
The Air Force does not and perhaps should not do this alone. It can draw upon the expertise resident in organizations such as the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance, an organization committed to advancing the inclusion of Hispanics throughout the Department of Defense, in this endeavor. The HVLA’s advocacy with congressional leaders and national Hispanic community leaders will reinforce the Air Force’s desire for transparency and accountability.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gens. Ricardo Aponte and Carlos E. Martinez are members of the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance (hvlavets.org) and the American College of National Security Leaders.
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