“As much as we put a premium on diversity and herald it as a legitimate strength, we don’t all come to the fight with the same perspective or the same experiences in our lives. It’s time to examine the self we each bring to service. It’s time to talk about what our service can gain from a better understanding of every self among us.”
EGLIN AFB — Area military commanders are initiating and encouraging dialogue among their troops around issues of race and justice after the recent death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
At Eglin Air Force Base, Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing and also the installation commander, has addressed the issue during regular Facebook broadcasts to Eglin personnel.
“As much as we put a premium on diversity and herald it as a legitimate strength, we don’t all come to the fight with the same perspective or the same experiences in our lives,” Cain said recently. “It’s time to examine the self we each bring to service. It’s time to talk about what our service can gain from a better understanding of every self among us.”
Within a few days of Floyd’s death, Cain was urging 96th Test Wing leadership, and leadership in other units across Eglin AFB, to have discussions with their personnel.
“They need to know where you stand,” Cain told Eglin AFB leadership. “They need to be able to talk to you.”
Cain also promised to provide Eglin personnel with tools to facilitate discussions of race and justice.
According to Department of Defense data reported by the Pew Research Center, in 2017 — the latest DoD data reported by Pew — racial and ethnic minorities comprised 43 percent of the U.S. military. Within that 43 percent, 39 percent are black, another 36 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are Asian and 15 percent are “other.”
“I will be directly engaging with my airmen at all levels,” Cain said via Facebook, “dedicating time to listen to them and to make myself better able to serve them and to improve our force.”
“We’re going to be a stronger team after this, and we’re going to make sure that happens,” Cain added. “And we’re going to do that by having a conversation, understanding each other, and being stronger together.”
At Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Col. Brian Laidlaw, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, and also the installation commander, is adopting a tone similar to Cain.
“Our leadership teams across the 325th Fighter Wing know each of us must have the courage to hold these types of candid, frank discussions with our airmen,” Laidlaw said in a statement.
“We also know the conversations are a starting point, not a solution,” Laidlaw continued. “And most of all, we know our airmen must be the vocal majority in these conversations.”
Laidlaw pledged that base leadership “will work to facilitate these open, honest conversations early and often … but most of all, we will work to listen.”
The Air Force’s installation-level response to the ongoing aftermath of Floyd’s death has been informed by recent comments from the service’s top enlisted leader, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright.
Appearing in a recent video message to the force with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Wright was candid about his experience as a black man.
“I’ve been really outraged for not just the last week,” Wright said, adding that the news surrounding the circumstances of Floyd’s death “drew up a lot of rage and a lot of anger from the past because I’ve just watched this over and over and over again.”
“I not only see myself in George Floyd,” Wright continued, “I see the young airmen in our Air Force. This could happen to any of us.”
“My greatest fear,” Wright added, “is I’ll wake up one day and one of our airmen will be George Floyd.”
During the joint message with Wright, Goldfein suggested that the tragedy of Floyd’s death might be the beginning of addressing the underlying issues.
“It may be (that) the big opportunity presented to us in this tragedy is to stop walking by the problem,” Goldfein said.
But, Goldfein added, there is no quick route to dealing with issues of race and justice.
“We didn’t get here overnight, we’re not going to get better overnight,” he said. “This is weeks and months of engagement, at every echelon of command.”
Among the other military services located in Northwest Florida, Capt. Timothy Kinsella, commander of Naval Air Station Pensacola, hasn’t issued a statement via social media or other channels available to the general public outlining his views on the situation.
But Kinsella has sent an email to all of those under his command urging them to “respect each other, be understanding” in connection with the issues surrounding the death of George Floyd, said Jason Bortz, public affairs officer at NAS Pensacola.
In addition, the installation’s Facebook page notes that “everyone, including sailors, are permitted to participate in peaceful assemblies and discussions on social media,” within the terms of Navy regulations and military law.
As with the Air Force, the Navy’s top leadership is setting a serious tone for dealing with issues of race and justice.
In a recent video message to Navy personnel posted on NAS Pensacola’s Facebook page, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said, “We can’t be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country, and I can’t be under any illusions that we don’t have it in our Navy.“
“I will never walk in the shoes of a black American, or any other minority,” Gilday also said. “I can’t imagine the pain and the disappointment and the anger that many of you felt when you saw that (the circumstances of Floyd’s death) because it’s not the first time. It’s happened time and time again in our country.”
“I don’t have all the answers,” Gilday admitted. “I can’t write an order or change a policy that’s going to fix things.”
For the short term, Gilday is suggesting that Navy personnel take time to listen to personnel with different experiences from their own.
“I would ask you to consider reaching out,” Gilday said. “Sit down, have a cup of coffee, have lunch, and just listen.”