Creating an environment where everyone feels welcome

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Leadership at Vance Air Force Base formed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force last July to improve understanding, treatment, inclusion and success of underrepresented Airmen here. 

Maj. Andrew Crawford, the Chief of Standards and Evaluations for the 71st Operations Group, was asked to lead the task force by former wing commander Col. Corey Simmons, and has spent the last two and a half months laying the foundation for lasting change. 

Crawford’s task force consists of seven Airmen across the base that bring diverse backgrounds and career fields to the team.

The team is mentored by two advisors. The first, Lt. Col. Christina Hopper, is a flight commander with the 5th Flying Training Squadron and is the first U.S. Air Force female F-16 combat pilot.

The second advisor, Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, was the inaugural commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service, Detachment 1, and the current 71st Operations Support Squadron commander. 

Since taking on the project, Crawford said he’s seen a marked difference from past diversity efforts and feels leadership buy-in is the crucial difference.

In particular, the current 71st Flying Training Wing commander, Col. Timothy Danielson, has pushed the goals of the task force forward since assuming command in late July. 

“Our end goal is an environment where everyone is welcomed, accepted and connected to each other, resulting in a place of dignity and respect where we excel together,” said Danielson. 

Here at Vance, multiple grassroots efforts are underway to turn ideas into action. One of the first efforts is through unconscious bias training. 

On Sept. 22, group and squadron commanders went to the first of several scheduled Commanders Enrichment courses. They were briefed by retired Col. Adam Oler from the National War College. He explained how the way American history has been taught from state to state has potentially led to unconscious bias that continues to exist today.

During the course, Ruffin, one of the two advisors to the task force, stressed the importance of engaged senior leadership in tackling this problem.  

“Diversity and inclusion is a nationwide challenge,” said Ruffin. “It is overwhelmingly critical that we take action on a local level.” 

Crawford hopes the squadron commanders will return to their units to lead small group discussions on how and why diversity and inclusion matter. 

The task force has also tailored programs for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training. One example of this is to pair students from marginalized groups into the same class. For example, rather than separate two female students into sister flights, they will now be paired together in the same flight.  

“Everyone should be able to look across the table and see someone that looks like them,” said Crawford. 

Ruffin is passionate about the effect that the task force can have on SUPT. 

He referenced the Tuskegee Airmen and their efforts to help America win World War II. When those African-American pilots made history by being the first to fly in the military, they numbered 996. Today, the Air Force has less than 250 active duty African-American pilots. 

“There’s so much talent in America that is not going into the U.S. military because we have challenges with our diversity and inclusion,” said Ruffin. “A more positive and inclusive culture would invite highly capable members of underrepresented communities to join our mission of protecting and defending our nation.” 

Both Crawford and Ruffin encourage all Airmen to be open minded about the task force and speak up about their stories. 

The toughest thing in Crawford’s opinion is knowing that they can’t do it all. 

He went on to elaborate that as best as they try to represent everybody, it will be difficult. He hopes Airmen will step up to help make this giant goal feasible. 

“Combining all of our experiences will make us a more lethal force,” said Crawford.