Commentary - Our Air Force - diverse in thought, word and deed

Gen. Darren McDew

Gen. Darren McDew

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The Air Force has a rich heritage built on the pillars of diversity and innovation. As African American History Month draws to a close, and we look on to honor women's history next month, I'd like to reflect on the word 'diversity.' Diversity is often equated to minority, but it's more than that - diversity is a reflection of what makes us unique, and it fuels our Air Force and our nation.

As the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh says, "Every Airman has a story." Today's Air Force is a product of all of your stories - your unique experiences, perspectives and ideas - and we are stronger because of it. Diversity is more important than ever, as the success of our Air Force hinges on bold leadership and innovation to overcome complex fiscal and operational realities.

When I think of leadership and diversity, I think of the Tuskegee Airmen. These Airmen embodied sacrifice, respect and a commitment to excellence, building a legacy and heritage that continues to shape our force. They have been an inspiration to me, and to us all. I think of retired Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the leader of that historic group, who went on to become the first African American to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in our Air Force. I also think of retired Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr., who was not only a Tuskegee Airman, but also a fellow Mobility Airman as the vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, the precursor to AMC. He rose to become the Air Force's first African American four-star general.

You will also find bold, innovative leadership in the example set by Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, the first woman to attend Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell, and the first female Air Force Brigadier General. She was a catalyst and pioneer who paved the way for women in our Air Force. Today, female Airmen make up approximately 19 percent of the Air Force, and we lead the way in the Department of Defense with 99% of our available positions open to women. From the current Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, to Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, our service's first female four-star general, to Col Jeannie Leavitt, the first Air Force fighter pilot, Women's History Month is a time to remember the importance of valuing our Airmen for who they are and celebrating what's unique in all of us.

African American History Month and Women's History Month give us an opportunity to reflect on how far we've come. To fully leverage the strength of our diversity, we must respect all of our fellow Airmen as members of an inclusive team, embracing all the experiences and expertise that our Airmen bring to the table. We all have a part to play in shaping the future of our Air Force, the Department of Defense, and our nation.

Although barriers to inclusiveness still exist, I am confident that current and future generations of Air Force leaders - each and every one of you - will continue to find new ways to incorporate the strengths of our individual Airmen to make us a better team.

Diversity is part of our DNA. America's strength is even greater than the sum of its parts. Our best qualities as a nation shine through when we embrace different cultures, backgrounds, and ways of thinking.

Our Air Force is, and will continue to be, the premier fighting force in the air, space, and cyberspace - and it's because of what our Airmen bring to the mission. To all our diverse Airmen - thank you for your service. Our Air Force is great because of you.