The Air Force Directed Units to Get Rid of Problematic Logos, But Didn't Track Results

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A pile of vinyl stickers handed out by the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron.
A pile of vinyl stickers handed out by the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron. The 51st Civil Engineer Squadron is one of five squadrons assigned to the 51st Mission Support Group, 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. (Source: Facebook)

The Air Force's directive to its lower-level units to review emblems, morale patches and mottos for racist, sexist or derogatory images or language has concluded, but the service doesn't plan on publishing the findings.

In January, the Air Force gave commanders from the squadron level and up until Feb. 21 to abolish symbols that are derogatory "to any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age or disability status to ensure an inclusive and professional environment," according to the announcement at the time.

The review included nicknames, coins, and other heraldry and insignia.

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But the service did not collate results from the widespread review, an Air Force spokeswoman told Military.com on Wednesday.

"Commanders made changes on the spot, where possible," she said in a statement. "There was not a requirement to centralize findings. If emblems had historical significance, but are no longer appropriate in a diverse workforce, commanders were advised to work with their command historians to ensure symbols are retired in appropriate ways."

The review did not warrant additional action by top leadership, said Ann Stefanek, another service spokeswoman.

"I'm not aware of concerns that were up-channeled to Headquarters Air Force, but commanders were encouraged to consult with staff judge advocates or their chain of command if they came across issues where additional guidance was required," Stefanek said.

Don Christensen, president of advocacy group Protect Our Defenders and a retired Air Force colonel, told Military.com on Thursday that the service should have instructed commanders to come forward with their findings and consolidate the information in one comprehensive report.

"It's like a missed opportunity to ensure that things are going the direction [leaders] want them to go," said Christensen, who was also the Air Force's chief prosecutor. "You hope the lower-level commanders are doing what they should be, but we see from time to time where they're not. You just want to make sure that things are being handled the way that you have an expectation for it.

"The last thing the Air Force wants is for somebody to leak [information] in the media, something embarrassing that a commander didn't address," he said. "So get on top of it, make sure that doesn't happen by alleviating the problem."

As a result of the review, the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron, known as the "Mongrels," changed its official pit bull patch logo, which the Anti-Defamation League labeled as a racist image for closely mirroring a white supremacist symbol, Stars and Stripes reported this week. The group Keystone United, formerly known as Keystone State Skinheads, used the pit bull insignia as its own logo, according to the league's website.

Air Force Instruction 84-105, last updated in 2019, directs units on how to best recognize their organizational lineage, honors and heraldry.

During the review, commanders were instructed to consult the AFI -- which emphasizes that symbols and language should be original, "in good taste and non-controversial" -- and their local historian.

In the midst of multiple reviews, the service aims to create a more inclusive culture, officials have said. Some reviews have produced immediate changes, such as allowing more flexible hairstyles while in uniform.

Last month, the Air Force Inspector General opened another independent review into how racial disparities in the administration of military justice affect airmen.

The new review, which followed another racial disparity assessment comparing the experiences of Black service members with those of their peers, focuses on differences in outcome by race, gender and ethnicity within the Air Force's Asian, Hispanic and American Indian communities. It also includes Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and Latinx members.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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