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The importance of diversity … of experience

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matthew Olson, 436th Civil Engineer Squadron commander

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – The Air Force continues to drive home the importance of diversity and rightfully so. We all make better decisions by surrounding ourselves with people who don’t look, think and act like we do. We also need to diversify ourselves and get outside of our functionally aligned, operational squadron stovepipes. If diverse teams make better decisions, it should also follow that Airmen with diverse experiences make better decisions and are ultimately better leaders. How can a leader balance the demands of executing the base’s mission and taking care of the Airmen in their unit without the diverse experiences necessary to relate to both?

As Airmen, we pride ourselves on our technical know-how, and functional excellence is a key pillar to the greatest Air Force the world has ever known, but in a resource-constrained, joint and multi-national environment, it’s not enough. We must be able to think creatively and team with other Air Force Specialty Codes, other services and even partner nations if we’re to maintain our national status as a global leader. If Airmen across the force don’t have the training and experience necessary to think outside of their units and functional specialties, our ability to rapidly project airpower across the globe will be at risk ...

In order to make sure Airmen are up to the individual diversity challenge, it is crucial that the Air Force continue to highlight the importance of and incentivize Developmental Special Duty (DSD), career broadening and joint assignments, all while squashing the stigma that such opportunities can hurt overall career development and promotion opportunities. Every single home station and deployed experience I have had outside of my core career field has led to professional growth and great job satisfaction, and senior noncommissioned officers and officers with DSD, joint and outside-the-DoD experiences bring great perspective and value to teams and problem-solving initiatives. Even our new Air Force Chief of Staff highlights this in his strategic approach, “Accelerate Change or Lose,” stating, “Our Airmen must be multi-capable and adaptable … and demonstrate value in the diversity of thought, ingenuity, and initiative.”

In a world full of dangerous and constantly changing security challenges, it is crucial that we develop Airmen that think bigger than their unit’s missions and have the skills and empathy necessary to team with all types of mission partners. Deliberately stepping outside of career field comfort zones is paramount for the personal and professional growth required to ensure we’re all ready to contribute and lead on the cross-functional teams. So the next time you’re tempted to shy away from an amazing opportunity to broaden your experiences, because you’re afraid it will hurt your career, remember to balance it with the opportunity cost of not building up your tool kit as a multi-capable Airman and warrior. Our great country needs creative problem-solving now as much as it ever has!