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Understanding diversity is key to life in military

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Delonte Sewell
  • 90th Logistics Readiness Squadron
Diversity is understanding each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences. These differences can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance, to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

The military is exactly what that definition says. We are a unit of people who come from all over the world with different backgrounds and beliefs, and who also come from all walks of life. We are made up of different colors, shapes and sizes. The military has been faced with a multitude of personal and cultural issues that have served to force the non-civilian community to step back and take a long look at its historic policies. From gender to race to sexual orientation, the military has grappled with significant changes that have both fortified and pulled apart members of its various outfits. Getting to know your people and what they believe in will not only help the mission, but the overall safety and morale of the people around you. If a young Airman feels safe and comfortable around his or her supervision, they are more likely to talk to them about things that bother them rather than waiting until things get too bad to handle and they don't have a choice. Or even before the supervision level, when in basic training if a person doesn't feel comfortable around the people they are with, they can't work at their full potential. If a person is not comfortable with his or her classmates or instructor it is hard to focus on studying for a test or paying attention in class.

To me diversity means being aware of the people around me and making sure I do what I can to make them feel comfortable and safe whether it's in or out of our work environment. Growing up in an area that is predominantly African-American, the things I do and say come natural to me. Now I'm in a different place with different people, diversity is something I'm going to have to be aware of in my everyday life. I've realized just because my friends and I talk a different way or about different things doesn't mean the people around me enjoy or understand what I'm talking about, and could take offense to what I'm saying. That could cause people to be uncomfortable in their work area and they wouldn't be able to work to their full potential. It could also cause the person who made the comment or gesture to get in trouble and also make the people around them suffer and have to deal with the consequences of one person's mistakes. Being able to learn from those mistakes, knowing how to bounce back from them and bettering yourself as a person is also part of diversity.

Diversity can also mean change for the betterment of people giving hope to those who come after. For instance, Thomas N. Barnes was the first African-American Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. He served from 1948 to 1977. To this date he is the only African American to hold this position. On Oct. 1, 1973, he was appointed Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and served from October 1973 to July 1977. At the expiration of the initial two-year tenure, he was extended for an additional year by the Air Force Chief of Staff. In February 1976, he was selected by the chief of staff to serve an unprecedented second year extension. He retired on July 31, 1977. He flew for nine years as a flight engineer on a variety of aircraft, seeing duty in Korea, the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam. He was also key in bringing many African-American related issues to the attention of senior military leaders. This achievement gave hope to all young African-American airmen, and let them know that because of diversity it is possible to make it to the top if they put forth the effort and work hard for it.

Diversity is getting to know the people around you and knowing how they feel about certain situations. It is exploring these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within the people around you.