By Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 31, 2020
U.S. Airmen participate in group discussions during Unity In Diversity Day at Aviano Air Base, Italy, July 17, 2020. The day consisted of group discussions and activities aimed at discovering and recognizing personal bias within the participants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
U.S. Airmen participate in group discussions during Unity In Diversity Day at Aviano Air Base, Italy, July 17, 2020. The 31st Fighter Wing came together to hold these discussions in the wake of racial disparity allegations within the Air Force, and social unrest and protests in the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
Nearly two weeks after the 31st Fighter Wing held its first Unity in Diversity Day, Airmen are still hard at work compiling surveys, gathering data, and planning a way forward.
Unity in Diversity Day was never intended to be a one-off event, but the first step towards bigger, meaningful change.
“By creating a seat for all in this dialog, we can give every single one of our Airmen an opportunity to listen and understand that different realities and experiences exist outside of their own perspectives,” said Tech. Sgt. Shae Tomiak, 31st FW Equal Opportunity specialist. “We are hoping that as a result of this shared dialog, we will motivate all of our members to self-reflect and then work to eliminate their own potential biases and blind spots that may have been collectively hindering our wing’s cohesion.”
So, the question that’s on everyone’s mind: What now?
“General Bailey made it very clear from early on that we would do the event, and we would do it right,” said Maj. Stephen Emmerthal, Commander’s Action Group director. “The only way we could do it right was if we collected data from that and used it to inform the next step of the process. If the general is making decisions in a vacuum, then we failed.”
Emmerthal and his team of “highly-motivated” Airmen are hard at work compiling data from more than 2,000 surveys and 500 hand-written comments, aiming to have their findings ready for the commander to review in a week’s time. Their goal is to separate feedback into three tiers: tier one, for immediately actionable projects and ideas; tier two, for longer-term ideas that may take more time and planning to be implemented at Aviano; and tier three, for those ideas the commander can present to MAJCOM and Air Force leadership for consideration of service-wide implementation.
“We can’t rewrite AFIs at a local level,” said Emmerthal, “but the general has promised that he will be the voice of these comments [to those who can]. That’s what’s so exciting about these comments - somewhere in that stack there are the rewrites, the ideas for the future at Aviano, the future of AFIs. That’s why we have such a motivated crew of [Airmen] getting at it.”
Feedback from the Unity in Diversity Day surveys was overwhelmingly - and unexpectedly - positive, said Emmerthal, but one out of nine Airmen shared they were concerned that this may not have a lasting effect.
“One in nine is way too many,” said Emmerthal. “Our work is not even close to being done. This was just a down payment, a first investment in the bank of trust.”
Though Aviano was the first to hold something of the sort, bases across multiple MAJCOMs have reached out to the 31st FW to learn how to do their own Unity in Diversity Day, building off the momentum that started right here.
“Sometimes you’ve just gotta run out front and show everybody else what right looks like,” said Emmerthal. “I foresee as we start to select some of these projects we’re going to be running out in front again. Hopefully if we fall on a project, we fall forward and continue to push the conversations.”