Trusting in a system: EO helps prevent workplace discrimination

Tech. Sgts. Jessica Blace, 31st Fighter Wing equal opportunity director, and Patrick Corbeil, 31st FW EO NCO in-charge, Karate kick workplace discrimination at Aviano Air Base, Italy on Oct. 19, 2016. EO members handle discrimination complaints, develop human relations, perform climate surveys and educate DOD employees on legally protected categories. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith/Released)

Tech. Sgts. Jessica Blace, 31st Fighter Wing equal opportunity director, and Patrick Corbeil, 31st FW EO NCO in-charge, Karate kick workplace discrimination at Aviano Air Base, Italy on Oct. 19, 2016. EO members handle discrimination complaints, develop human relations, perform climate surveys and educate DOD employees on legally protected categories. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Patrick Corbeil, 31st Fighter Wing equal opportunity NCO in-charge, briefs new Team Aviano Airmen on how to prevent workplace discrimination on Oct. 18, 2016 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. EO members educate Team Aviano personnel on appropriate workplace behavior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Patrick Corbeil, 31st Fighter Wing equal opportunity NCO in-charge, briefs new Team Aviano Airmen on how to prevent workplace discrimination on Oct. 18, 2016 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. EO members educate Team Aviano personnel on appropriate workplace behavior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith/Released)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- In the early 1970s, racial tension in the U.S. military, which resulted in riots, led to the Department of Defense’s creation of a program employed by all military branches – Equal Opportunity.

For decades, EO members have helped prevent and fight workplace discrimination.

Today, two non-commissioned officers in the 31st Fighter Wing EO office continue that service for Team Aviano by educating military members on policies and assisting those who file a discrimination complaint.

“I feel like people on base trust us because we are approachable, but even more, they trust in EO because the process works,” said Tech. Sgt. Jessica Blace, 31st FW EO director. “In the EO office, we search for the truth and advocate for the process.”

That process hasn’t changed much since EO’s inception, which involves handling complaints, developing human relations, performing climate surveys and educating DOD employees on legally protected categories.

“Military members are guaranteed legal protection against discrimination based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex and sexual orientation. Civilian employees are also protected under age, disability and genetic information,” said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Corbeil, 31st FW EO NCO in-charge. “If anyone feels they are mistreated based on one of those six categories, they can come into our office and talk with us.”

According to Blace and Corbeil, the process begins with a conversation.

“The first thing I want to do is try and tackle allegations so I know if the person’s issue is EO-related,” added Blace. “If the situation is within our realm, I try and find out all the facts so we can do a thorough investigation to find the truth.”

Blace mentioned EO is not a confidential reporting agency, but in her 10 years of experience, no one was afraid or discouraged to continue with an investigation.

“The fact no one has left without help proves how much people trust in the system and trust us to do our jobs correctly until we reach a solution,” said Blace. “But it takes more than just sitting here, waiting for someone to visit us, to maintain that trust.”

Blace and Corbeil travel around base to inform and network with Team Aviano members and get a pulse of unit environments through surveys.

“The EO staff does a lot of networking on base with meet and greets to educate Airmen and civilians on what is or isn’t appropriate workplace behavior,” said Master Sgt. Anthony Costa, 31st Communication Squadron first sergeant. “I think their community outreach builds rapport and reinforces the idea that you can trust them for correct information and help.”

Since “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed in 2010 and same-sex marriages were legalized in all 50 states for military members, the EO office has worked to keep Team Aviano updated on accurate information so people can help maintain healthy working environments.

“Tech. Sgt. Blace and I are excited the military is protecting more and more people, including them in new categories,” said Corbeil. “But with more legal rights and added discrimination categories, there’s more information on what actions are workplace-appropriate or where legal rights are not in effect.”

Corbeil added that although same-sex marriage has been legalized for military members in all 50 states, a military member may be assigned or deployed to another country that doesn’t allow open homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

“The best we can do is inform everyone there’s a safe place to come to if they need help,” said Blace.

An Airmen who was inspired from their talks is Senior Airman Trebor Burns, 704th Munitions Squadron custody forces member at Ghedi Air Base, Italy. Burns is shadowing Blace and Corbeil here before deciding to cross train into the career field.

“Providing equal opportunity for all military members is something we should all strive for since the Air Force is such a large and diverse organization. We all need to accept each other regardless of our backgrounds,” said Burns. “I want to cross train to be a part of this positive influence for others on a large scale.”

Blace and Corbeil will continue to fight for those in need and help all Airmen and civilians prevent discrimination.

“When I see the Air Force taking care of all of its employees, it makes me proud to be a part of the blue,” said Blace. “The best part about being in EO is seeing the positive changes that help keep our Air Force great.”