Learning to be Diversity Champions

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Chuck Gruver and Staff Sgt. Emily F. Alley
  • 190th Public Affairs

Today's Air National Guard is comprised of our community's finest men and women. From all walks of life - rural farms, inner cities and every place in between - young Americans are drawn to the call of Integrity, Service and Excellence. We celebrate this diversity, recognizing that such a mix of experience leads to a breadth of perspective and broader horizons, and ultimately innovative ways to maximize our combat capabilities for the joint team. 

With that in mind, several members of the 190th ARW recently participated in the Diversity Champions Workshop. 

"Through communication, we can build efficiency," Senior Airman Olivia Kennedy, a workshop participant, described. "For example, our mission is aerial refueling. But it comes down to the people and how they deal with each other on a day-to-day basis. You have to be self-aware. How do you handle yourself, and how does that influence others?" 

Kennedy said she was initially skeptical when "some showed up defensive, like 'Do they think I'm a racist?'" but later found the lessons practical. 

The workshop explored communication, ranging from age, rank, gender and a breadth of other ideas. As a theme, participants did not wear uniforms and came from various backgrounds, including Joint Force Headquarters, traditional guardsmen, full-time and Army National Guard. 

"When you acknowledge other people, it identifies the stereotypes you have," added Captain Bret Ulrich, who also participated. "It gives you tools to identify your fears."
The projects were hands-on and reinforced a variety of communication styles. Kennedy said it was useful to illustrate why people react differently. She suggested it was a lesson she could apply to her personal life as well, specifically, understanding and talking to her husband. 

"I'm learning how to decode him," she said. "So if I approach him one way, maybe he'll fix the roof, for example." 

Kennedy attributes her nomination for the workshop because she won her category for Airman of the Year in the state of Kansas. She is in the position of training new Airmen, as they join the unit. Working with a variety of people, class participants, like Kennedy, benefited from learning a diversity of communication styles. 

"That knowledge isn't meant to stop at one person," said Kennedy. "You have to train the trainer and look for someone who can branch that information out. How do you help people around you be better?" 

The workshop underscored the idea that a leader must motivate a variety of people, who may react differently to leadership style. A leader's ability to form a complementary, winning team happens as the leader gets to know individuals and engages their full potential toward the goals of the team. The point is to find peoples' unique talents and distill that into their highest contribution that they are passionate to give. 

"Some of us, who have been in for a while, know about diversity issues," said Ulrich. "But we recognize what a great unit this is." 

As individuals, all unit members are a national asset and essential to accomplishing the ANG's mission. As a seamless team, we are able to overcome any challenge. A disciplined force puts mission first; flies, fights, and wins as a team; knows the rules; pays meticulous attention to details; and is accountable for the final results. 

We must continue to show determination and focus on creating inclusive teams to ensure no one gets left behind. We, as the Air National Guard cannot claim to be inclusive yet have structures and policies in place that are non-inclusive! 

1. Do work teams have clear, measurable goals?
2. Do individuals stay diligently focused on the most important goals?
3. Are success measures tracked accurately and openly?
4. Do work teams plan together how to achieve their goals? 

The United States' first national motto, "E pluribus Unum," means, "out of many, one." Initially, this motto referred to the formation of our great nation from the 13 colonies. Today, that phrase reminds us that we're in this fight together. Harnessing our magnificent differences into an effective, coherent team takes solid leadership, quality training and a conscious effort toward mutual respect on all our parts.