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Celebrating diversity in our Air Force

  • Published
  • By Maj. Barry Nichols
  • 571st Global Mobility Readiness Squadron Commander
"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Most of us remember these words as children in elementary school but do we really understand the significance of this event and the impact it had on our country?

Each year, Americans traditionally celebrate the second Monday in October as Columbus Day to recognize Christopher Columbus' perilous voyage in the discovery of the New World. Since his historic journey more than 500 years ago, millions of people have followed his footsteps and ventured across the oceans to begin a new life in the United States and experience the American dream first hand.

Many of us trace our ancestry and heritage to countries outside the United States and the "melting pot" history of our nation is well-publicized. But we often forget how the country we know and love today is a direct result of the fusion of different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures throughout the past 235 years of our nation's existence. Diversity has made our nation stronger and continues to be the foundation of our future successes.

Our Air Force is no different. Our diverse range of skills, backgrounds and knowledge, as well as our ability to learn from each other's experiences, is what makes us the world's greatest air and space force. In fact, diversity is so critical to Air Force mission accomplishment that we have an Air Force policy directive specifically addressing it as a military necessity. AFPD 36-70 defines diversity as "a composite of individual characteristics, experiences and abilities consistent with the Air Force core values and the Air Force mission" including such areas as personal life experiences, geographic background and cultural knowledge. It also is Air Force policy to develop comprehensive diversity initiatives to enhance the total force, such as Asian Pacific American Heritage month and Hispanic Heritage month occurring now to Oct. 15.

Our service's expanding multiculturalism was never more evident than Aug. 26 when five basic trainees became United States citizens while attending basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Naturalization at Basic Training initiative allows Airmen and other basic military trainees to become citizens before graduation during a special naturalization ceremony. These five new Airmen were some of the first to ever realize their dream of becoming an American citizen in this manner and there will surely be more new citizens in the future. In fact, a USCIS fact sheet indicates that more than 71,000 members of the military have become naturalized U.S. citizens since September 2001.

The Air Force has made diversity a priority and compels leaders to foster an environment in which mutual respect and trust are prevalent. However, it should be the goal of every Airman to promote the exchange of ideas and mentorship among those with different backgrounds. Only when Airmen understand and respect each other for our differences will we be able to capitalize on diversity's benefits.