Equal treatment, opportunity ensures mission success

  • Published
  • By Col. Doug Troyer
  • 71st Operations Group commander
It has been almost 60 years since President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that led to the integration of the Armed Forces. It has been more than 30 years since the Air Force began training women to fly in undergraduate pilot training. Although as service and as a nation I would say we continue to make strides toward the perfect ideal of a color blind and gender equal society, a recent event has reminded me that no matter how far we have come we still have a ways to go.

We have all seen or heard the news stories this political season surrounding the three remaining big name presidential candidates and how hard it is for some to look past the fact that one is a white man, one is an African-American man and one is a white woman. Almost daily there is another campaign story where someone highlights race or gender as a positive or negative, depending on the slant of the story.

It seems that no matter how hard we try, we can't get past classifying people by what they are rather than who they are. I would hope everyone would agree that is unfair and wrong.

A senator is a senator, and the person should only be measured against his or her political credentials and not defined by race or gender. Much as a senator is a senator, an Airman is an Airman regardless of sex, ethnic heritage, social background, economic status or other factors.

We all understand - or should understand - that those around us deserve to be defined by their skills and competence, not by their race or gender. It is vitally important for good order and discipline that we treat one another with respect and dignity, regardless of race or gender. One measure of treating each other with respect and dignity is ensuring our work environment is inviting to all and not exclusive or offensive toward some.

When I was a squadron commander, I would brief equal and respectful treatment of those in the surrounding workplace when I discussed my military equal opportunity policy. One example that I used was how it would be inappropriate for two best friends of different races to use ethic jokes or phrases to tease each other.

I explained that even though the best friends may have the type of relationship that they felt comfortable using that type of language, someone else sitting within earshot may not appreciate their humor. Having to listen to the jokes could well be offensive or hurtful to them, even if the language was not directed toward them personally.

I bring this up because I recently had a case where a member of my group was subjected to a hostile work environment to the point that it began affecting their work performance. While the specifics aren't important, the gist of the matter was that there was language use and acts between co-workers which were intended to be humorous, but which ended up offending (justifiably so) one of the co-workers. While the "joking" co-workers did not intentionally set out to harass or otherwise foster a hostile environment, their conversations and other acts had that affect.

I am not advocating a sterile work environment - certainly humor and good natured ribbing is a part of building camaraderie and esprit de corps. However, we must all be cognizant of the way we choose to express ourselves and must account for the fact that jokes which demean certain segments of our society, off color language, etc., have no place in our workplace.

We are one team fighting one fight. If we have teammates who aren't 100% effective because they are under stress from having to deal with a hostile work environment, then the team as a whole is weakened. Whether intentional or not, the time has long passed when the use of inappropriate language or acts will be tolerated. It is incumbent upon all of us - not just the person who may be offended - to speak up when hearing something that could be perceived as offensive and take corrective action.

We in the military have come a long way in the equal treatment of women and minorities, and I would venture to say that we are a model for society as a whole, but we can always do better. Each of us needs to be conscious of the nature of our words and actions and how they could be interpreted by others around us. A healthy team needs each teammate wanting to be a member, not dreading it.