Embracing Wingmen diversity

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- To prosper in the future, we must value, understand, and better utilize diversity in our business, education, government, as well as in society in general. In other words, we must learn to manage employee diversity as a vital resource.
-- Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener

The Airman's Creed tells us we have an obligation to "never leave an Airman behind." This phrase is most often associated with action in combat, but given the demands of today's Air Force, I believe it has at least as much relevance in the day to day workplace as on the front lines. 

The constantly-evolving work environments, always-changing organizational structures and rapidly-advancing technology could make it easy for individuals to "get lost in the swirl." While the Air Force, and military as a whole, is composed of a wide cross-section of society, it is very likely that at the individual-level personnel serving in the armed forces have not been exposed to such a wide-ranging array of changes and challenges. Add on top of that the unique cultural and regulatory environment of the military, and the result can easily be overwhelming. 

The ability to survive and excel in the military environment is not directly attributable to any particular age, race or religion. In my current unit, three predominate generations are represented - the Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1979), and Generation Y or the Millennial Generation (born 1980 - 1988). In addition, we also are extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic background, race, religion and gender. Finally, we have operators, engineers, spacelift technicians, civilians and contractors assigned to the squadron. Even though we are very diverse, we all strive every day for a common goal of accomplishing our assigned mission. 

Having so many diverse backgrounds in today's Air Force presents some challenges, but provides tremendous opportunities to make the force stronger. The demands and expectations of the military lifestyle can be unfamiliar to young Airmen. As a consequence, the adjustment period to this new environment can take longer than many supervisors might expect, and as a result work-place production, morale, and ultimately the mission can suffer. The reasons can be many, but misunderstandings, communication barriers and inability to relate to each other can result in an inability to accomplish even the simplest tasks needed to keep the unit running. 

Too often responsibility for "indoctrinating" and "mentoring" new Airman on the ways of the military is the de facto role assumed by the commander, superintendent, or first sergeant. Even though these individuals are a valuable resource for information on Air Force programs and opportunities, they may not be in the best position to influence and instruct new Airman on the values, standards and expectations of the Air Force. 

Here is one area where the cultural diversity of the military becomes one of its strengths. Given the amount of diversity that exists in today's Air Force, each new Airman likely has someone who works or lives near them, perhaps of an older generation group, but of similar cultural upbringing, with who they can more easily relate. In order for these new and motivated Airman to really learn what is expected of them, the front line supervisors (captains, staff sergeants and technical sergeants), should actively seek out those Airman with whom they share a similar background to help them adapt to today's Air Force. It is amazing how quickly two people can build a relationship based on a common experience, such as a growing up in nearby communities, belonging to the same religious or community organization, or enjoying the same outdoor activities. Using these types of connections should not be viewed as exclusionary, or an attempt to create "good-old boy" networks, but the connections should be used as yet another way to assist personnel new to the military way of life get started down the right path. 

Every young Airman deserves our best effort to provide them guidance, to ensure they have every tool necessary to help make them successful. This type of mentoring does not have to take hours or be scheduled weeks in advance, but can be as simple as a brief comment while passing in the hallway, and by taking time now to assist these new Airmen, we will strengthen the entire Air Force and ensure no Airman is left behind.