Air Force Launches Review into Racial Disparities in Punishments, Opportunities

U.S. Air Force basic military graduation and coining ceremony is held June 4, 2020 on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
U.S. Air Force basic military graduation and coining ceremony is held June 4, 2020 on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force/ Johnny Saldivar)

Weeks after an advocacy organization found that black airmen in junior enlisted ranks are twice as likely to receive discipline as those from other demographics, the Air Force Inspector General has launched an independent review into the service's history of disparity in military punishment and developmental opportunities given to African American service members, officials announced Tuesday.

In a release, the service said the review, ordered at the direction of Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett; Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein; and Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, will "assess and capture existing racial disparities; assess Air Force-specific causal factors, like culture and policies; assimilate the analysis and conclusions of previous racial disparity studies by external organizations; and make concrete recommendations resulting in impactful and lasting change."

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"We are listening, and we are taking action," the leaders said in a letter accompanying the announcement.

The IG will reach out to airmen, including those temporarily assigned to the Space Force, through anonymous surveys and one-on-one interview or group discussion requests. The surveys will be made available by mid-June on the Air Force's website.

In a town hall last week, Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright called for change and improvement in the service, including a review of the military justice system.

The IG review formalizes that request, according to the release.

"We want to make sure our Air and Space Professionals are able to share their experiences and concerns, and we want to empower them to be a part of the solution," said Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Air Force Inspector General.

"Their voices will be heard and captured for the record. We have a tremendous opportunity here, and we will not waste it," Said added.

An advisory board will supplement the review process. Said has formed a senior leader advisory group composed of "10 African American general officers, 10 African American chiefs and four African American senior executive service Airmen," the service said.

The IG's office will also reach out to a number of airmen from all the major commands to join its review team.

Following the announcement, Wright praised the move. "Action," he posted on Twitter and linked to the release.

Wright was the first member of senior military leadership to speak out publicly following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.

Wright's words contained concern for black members of the Air Force; officials told that he felt compelled to say something as part of a larger conversation about being black in America, especially as it relates to the military judicial system.

In May, the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders released newly obtained materials from an Air Force study that found the service has not implemented any serious solutions to fix a long-standing problem of racial disparity in the military judicial system. Furthermore, POD said, the service did not appropriately disclose information of its own inconsistencies when analyzing the issue.

"It takes people at the very top to acknowledge that there's a problem and act on the problem," Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders and a retired Air Force colonel, told last month.

He said that implementing real change starts with the chain of command.

"Now, fortunately, it looks like the Air Force will have its first African American chief of staff," Christensen said last month of Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown. "But it's still so underrepresented."

In a historic vote, Brown was unanimously confirmed Tuesday by the Senate to take over as the 22nd chief, making him the first African American officer to ever serve as the top uniformed officer of any of the military branches.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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