Air Force Will Now Collect Demographic, Rank Data on Nonjudicial Punishments

Airmen eat their Thanksgiving meal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Airmen eat their Thanksgiving meal at the 322nd Training Squadron Dining Facility at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Nov. 26, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Annette Crawford)

Are there really different spanks for different ranks? The U.S. Air Force is launching a new effort to track lesser disciplinary actions by demographic to ensure impartiality, the service announced Wednesday.

The service will collect data on how airmen and Space Force guardians who receive administrative counseling, admonishments or reprimands are treated, including a comparison based on rank, age, gender, race and ethnicity, the Air Force said in a release.

Names and other personally identifiable information will not be collected, the service added.

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"Tracking administrative discipline data, to include demographics, reinforces the department's commitment to ensuring all airmen and guardians are treated fairly and provides commanders insight to facilitate positive practices, such as increased mentoring and professional development," John A. Fedrigo, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, said in a signed memorandum, according to the release.

The Dec. 21 memo directs commanders to examine their disciplinary actions. The service has also accumulated nonjudicial punishment and court-martial data dating back to 1974 to study, the release states.

"The key to our success historically in developing this disciplined force has been to operate under a progressive discipline construct, across the entire continuum of discipline, addressing minor transgressions to major crimes appropriately," Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell, the judge advocate general for the Department of the Air Force, said in the release. "As an Air Force, we have consistently collected Article 15 and court-martial data, but not lesser mentoring and other actions which build this inclusive, disciplined force. This tool will help commanders facilitate positive practices such as increased mentoring and will ensure that every Airman and Guardian is given an equal opportunity to meet and exceed standards."

The service will also hold leaders more accountable. Should a commander and his or her unit have a low score relating "to diversity, inclusion, belonging or equal opportunity topics" within the service's Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey report -- how it gauges the health of the organization -- leaders will be required to create an action plan to address the findings, explaining how they can rectify the violations, the service said in a separate release Wednesday. The plan must be submitted within 60 days of the returned climate survey results, the release states.

The latest effort comes weeks after the service released a comprehensive, six-month Air Force Inspector General review into racial disparities in disciplinary measures.

The 150-page Independent Racial Disparity Review confirmed that Black service members are adversely affected within the military judicial system and detailed how they compare to white airmen in career and other developmental opportunities -- but could not define the root causes for the disparities.

For example, Black airmen are nearly twice as likely to be suspects in a military criminal investigation, arrested or apprehended by a base patrol, or involuntarily discharged based on misconduct, according to the IG review.

"This was intended to paint a picture and inform the broader diversity and inclusion effort on specifically where to look, what to focus on, and where we see issues of concern that need to be further assessed," Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the service's inspector general, told reporters ahead of the review's release last month.

For some key findings, "we're not implying that [either] racism or bias is the causal factor of such risk disparity," he said. "That requires more detailed assessment and analysis. When we say disparity, it doesn't imply, immediately, racism, bias or otherwise."

The review included an examination of military justice data dating back to 2012.

The IG's office received more than 123,000 survey responses from active-duty, Guard and Reserve members and conducted 138 group interviews -- ranging from 12 to 50 service members, officer and enlisted, per group in two-hour discussions -- to understand where Black airmen are at a disadvantage.

According to the report, many Black service members expressed a lack of confidence in the discipline and career development systems within the service, compared to their white peers.

While the report's authors said it was "impossible" to validate overt bias or racism, including in job placement and promotion rates, the themes that emerged from the feedback "make it reasonable to conclude that individual acts of racism have occurred in the Department of the Air Force and that racial bias contributes to the disparities found by the review team," whether consciously or unconsciously.

As part of a widespread effort to address the problem, the Air Force over the summer created a new task force to analyze diversity and inclusion issues.

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

Related: Black Airmen More Likely to Be Investigated, Arrested and Discharged, Air Force Finds

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