EO combats discrimination

The Equal Opportunity Program is responsible for improving mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers. The Vandenberg EO office processes complaints of discrimination for members of Team V. (Courtesy graphic)

The Equal Opportunity Program is responsible for improving mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers. The Vandenberg EO office processes complaints of discrimination for members of Team V. (Courtesy graphic)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The Equal Opportunity Program is responsible for improving mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers.

The Vandenberg EO office processes complaints of discrimination for members of Team V.

“There are several parts to filing a complaint,” but step one is to make contact with the EO office,” said Vanneca Phelps, EO director. “Then we determine if you have a basis for your complaint. There are five basis for a complaint: race, color, sex, natural origin, and religion. Everyone fits into one of those categories, so anybody can come here. This is not just a place where minorities or women come to get issues off their chest. Everyone needs to be treated fairly and equitably across the board.”

EO is open to Active Duty members, family members, and DoD civilians.

“We are a helping agency, not counselors,” said Phelps. “We are the place where you come to find out information about anything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about discrimination or racism. You can come here to get an answer, even if that is a referral to another agency who can assist you.”

The EO office also specializes in mediation and conflict resolution. They use an informal mediation process before a formal complaint is filed.

“We have this process called Alternative Dispute Resolution, which is the Air Force’s conflict resolution process, using mediation and facilitation,” said Phelps. It’s all about getting people to sit down at the table and talk to each other. Once you get them to talk to each other they often realize that they are capable of handling whatever issue it is on their own or with a little bit of help. Dialogue from both ends of the spectrum is simply the key to resolving most issues. We empower the person to try to resolve their own issue before they file a formal complaint. That is actually how we like it to end.”

EO is a neutral helping agency for any base member who may be feeling mistreated or unheard.

“A lot of what we do is giving people a voice where it can be heard,” said Master Sgt. Kimberly Guler, EO superintendent. “Being a neutral party helps us listen to what the complaint is without any emotions involved. We are just the place that gives them their options for resolution. My job isn’t to fix anything, but I can provide individuals with information and the options that they have to address their problems. It’s always up to the complainant how they want to resolve the issue. I feel like that’s what makes people walk away feeling heard and empowered because they have the information and can decide how to act.”

Regardless of how seemingly minor a complaint may be, EO personnel are there to mediate and assist in the healing process.

“Whether an individual’s complaint is substantiated or not, is not important,” said Guler. “It’s the impact of these perceptions that we’re addressing. Most of the time it’s a misunderstanding or miscommunication of the intention. Most people don’t intend to hurt other people’s feelings, but it happens. What we have to deal with is the impact of what happened, not their intention.”

Creating a healthy and just work environment for everyone is the ultimate goal for the EO office.

“My main goal is to make sure that distractors which make people’s lives miserable are not going to take place as long as I’m doing my job,” said Phelps. “Distractors such as racism, prejudice and unfair treatment. That’s my job. To make sure that those things don’t keep anyone from doing what they’ve been assigned here to do.”