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NEWS | Jan. 24, 2008

Diversity in the workforce creates ingenuity

By Lt. Col. Matt Anderer 89th Operations Support Squadron commander

As I enjoyed time at home with my family over the long weekend and read the numerous newspaper articles about the life and struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought about the progress that has been made and how the nation and the Air Force have benefited from the dreams of a man whose life was taken too early. 

We remember grade school Social Studies classes describing the United States as a "melting pot," a blend of different races and cultures. Certainly, there are few places in the world with such an expansive demographic as the American society. Former Secretary of State and retired Army General Colin Powell commented that "America is a remarkable society that still takes in 'the tired, the poor, the huddled masses,' and gives them the opportunity that they need to become contributing citizens." While we blend together to create the melting pot that is America, enriched by the meat, potatoes, and tamales, of our pasts, we need to also maintain our own cultural identities. 

What that means to me is our unique cultures and backgrounds offer each of us a different perspective. We look through different "lenses" to see the same things differently; I know that is the case with my wife and me! But those varied perspectives create the strength of our nation, our military, and our Air Force. I remember sharing with the Squadron Operations Superintendent once that if we had 10 more NCOs like SSgt Miller, we could accomplish amazing things. I was surprised by his response, "Sure would be a boring world." I was surprised as SSgt Miller was an amazing Airman but then the wisdom of the superintendant's words sunk in. What makes our Air Force effective (if not entertaining) is the different talents we each bring to the table. Each of us has a different perspective enabled by our own experiences. 

These varied backgrounds, culture, race, religion, education allow us to approach problems with different tools. How often, for instance, have we asked Airmen new to a shop or section to take a look out how we operate and offer ways that may improve the way we do business? We are asking for that fresh look, a view through a different lens. That scenario is a microcosm of a greater discussion how our Air Force leverages our diversity to accomplish the mission. General Patton was quoted as saying something to the extent of never tell someone how to do a task, rather tell them what you want done and let them surprise you with their ingenuity. Though the 7th and 3rd Armies were a smaller demographic than today's Air Force, Patton relied on his subordinates solutions. I think the "ingenuity" to which he referred is directly due to the diversity of his subordinates. They weren't encumbered by his experiences and thus their solutions could appear novel to him. With the greater diversity in today's Air Force, there is plenty of opportunity for ingenuity. 

I believe that our AFSO21 initiative is based on the same idea. While AFSO21 is a "top-down" directed program, the solutions are "bottom-up." The Air Force, much like Patton, is telling us what needs to be done and asking us to come up with the creative solutions. They are leveraging our diverse backgrounds and our varied approaches to come up with better ways to accomplish the mission. 

It may be a seem like a stretch to start with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and close with AFSO21 but I believe that many of the positive consequences of the civil rights movement have matured in the Air Force to a point where we embrace, celebrate, and leverage our diversity to better accomplish the mission.