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Diversity: A defining strength

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- In the history of American society, our diversity has been one of our greatest strengths and greatest struggles. The concept that our forefathers had for this country, one that is free and diverse, has been doubted many times. For example, Adolf Hitler believed that the melting pot nature of the United States would ultimately lead to our downfall, stating, "...it is a decayed country." Our country's acceptance of diversity and variety has evolved over time; and there is no doubt that our country is stronger and more resilient because of it. Although our integration has experienced difficult times and has been far from perfect, the simple fact that we have the freedom to persistently improve and find solutions to our differences is a testament to our perseverance.

But, what does diversity really mean to our Air Force? The simplest and purest definition of diversity is variety. When asked, most people would define diversity as different religions, genders, and races. However, to capitalize on the true benefits of a diverse team we must realize that those descriptions are not the only ones that make up a diverse organization. True diversity also stems from our richly different backgrounds and life experiences. A truly successful team, organization, or country utilizes these different perspectives as an asset. Malcolm Forbes described diversity as "...the art of thinking independently together." Putting these ideas together, the strength of a diverse organization is simply the ability to utilize the greatest variety of expertise and experiences to solve challenges and/or to innovate.

We each enter the military as a small facet of that variety. The first thing the Air Force does, whether you go through basic training, officer training school, ROTC or the Air Force Academy, is to equalize every member through the issuing of a common uniform and the creation of a military family through shared intense physical and mental challenges. This would seem counter to the idea of honoring our variety, but in reality it is the first essential component of assuring that each member is provided the opportunity to succeed and contribute based upon their individual strengths. The uniform we wear may be equalizing, but our diverse life skills and abilities provide an unmatched resource that is the backbone of successful brainstorming and problem solving.

I have the pleasure of commanding a unit that is extremely diverse, encompassing 18 Air Force Specialty Codes and including civilians, contractors and military members from Airmen Basic to retired Chief Master Sergeant. These statistics speak to one level of diversity in terms of experience. Additionally, my unit is representative of the entire nation in that we have individuals from most of the states, who grew up in vastly different families and environments. I am amazed every day at the ability of a diverse team to look at complex challenges and find efficient and comprehensive solutions. History empirically proves that diversity has led to greater problem solving and overall team synergy. In the end, I firmly believe that a diverse team will outperform its homogenous peer in every way.

I am so proud that the Air Force we serve is a diverse one; a service that includes all characteristics of our nation. However, that diversity comes with a challenge. In order for us to reap the benefits listed above, it means we must challenge ourselves to listen, respect, and find compromise with our fellow Airmen. At times, it may be easier and more comfortable to discuss problems with individuals who have similar beliefs and experiences, but to achieve true innovation and progress; we must leverage our uniqueness and diversity. Only then will we effectively operate as a member of a diverse team and solve the complex and challenging dilemmas facing our Air Force. In the end, our military continues to represent the best parts of our beloved country, and because of that it is the greatest Air Force on Earth.