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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2021

502d ABW senior leaders discuss Black History Month, culture

By C Arce 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Wendell Snider discussed Black History Month and the culture at JBSA during their Tough Conversation discussion Feb. 23 at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. 

The discussion focused on personal stories, concerns and how we, as a team, can create a culture where discrimination of any kind would not be tolerated or perpetuated by members of JBSA. 

“I think this is an important moment in history and I think we should take advantage of it to continue to find ways we can improve,” Snider said.  

Miller and Snider encouraged the group to share openly and discuss any overt or covert actions they see that are holding the wing back from providing a diverse and inclusive environment.   

One attendee opened the conversation saying it’s important to separate personal feelings from the reality of racism and we must focus on the facts.  

“Talks are good, but if people don’t have the intention to call people out when they know something is wrong, then it’s just talk,” he said.  

Another participant added that the need for acknowledgement that racism exists makes some people feel uncomfortable.  

“It should not,” she said. “Racism was here before us, and unfortunately, it’s going to be here after us. It’s going to take a long time to get to where we need to go, but we’ve got to do the work anyway.”  

Miller then asked the group, “When you’re in uniform and you’re out and about, do people say, ‘thank you for your service?’ Conversely, if you’re not in uniform, do people treat you differently?” 

“I’m revered when I’m in the uniform,” an attendee said. “But when I’m at Target in sweatpants and a T-shirt, I am eyed several times and even followed.”  

The group also discussed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.’s thoughts on the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol.  

“When I heard that the chief of staff was appalled by the riot at the Capitol, I wasn’t surprised that we had retirees and active-duty members there,” an attendee said.  

Another member added that giving the proper punishment to the rioters is an important step in showing them that they can’t get away with these actions, whether they are in the military or not. 

 Miller asked the group, “Within the 502d Air Base Wing, how do we get after this? How do we start changing the culture?”  

Multiple attendees agreed that starting with leadership is the first step to fixing these problems. A member said if leadership shows a vested interest and the courage to handle these situations, people will see that, and it will encourage them to speak up.  

Another participant added that there is no place for racism in the Air Force.  

“We cannot train racism away,” she said. “Racism is in your heart – that’s evilness in the heart… It’s everybody against racism. It has to be.”  

An attendee said in the time she’s been in the military, she has never had the opportunity to discuss issues like these, especially with senior leaders. 

“These tough conversations have shined the light on a lot of issues in the military,” she said. “If we’re okay talking about the small issues, you make us comfortable to talk about the serious issues.” 

Miller reiterated that cultivating an inclusive environment built on dignity and respect is a significant part of the wing’s lines of effort.  

“Everybody has to do their part,” Snider added. “The organization is so big. When you see something wrong, you have to have the courage to do something about it.”  

502d ABW senior leaders have on-going processes to tackle these issues, and they encourage personnel to reach out and share any concerns within their organizations to ensure there is accountability at every level. 

The Tough Conversation roundtable was implemented to focus on important, challenging and impactful topics that affect the Air Force and DOD. This series fosters an open and candid dialogue between 502d ABW senior leaders, service members and civilians of all ranks and backgrounds. 

The next Tough Conversations discussion on this topic is scheduled for Mar. 9 at JBSA-Lackland. If you would like to participate, please discuss with your leadership.