Air Force Special Operations Commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, joined a multi-part discussion on race in the military hosted by the Center for a New American Security on Nov. 17, 2020.
The podcast took a deep dive into the Air Force's efforts to address diversity and inclusion through fostering honest conversations, emphasizing the importance of inclusion, and building the next generation of leaders.
Panelists included a generational span of Air Force leaders including U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Myron Chivis, a student at the National War College; U.S. Air Force Maj. Alea Nadeem, a Defense Fellow and Air Force Women’s Initiative Team Chief; and Cadet 3rd Class Mark Johnson, United States Air Force Academy.
Moderators Bishop Garrison and CNAS Adjunct Senior Fellow Dr. Jason Dempsey asked Slife if there are any AFSOC cultural issues that he’s addressing, given that we are living in a society where race and diversity are at the forefront of a national conversation.
Slife reflected on a conversation with Chivis, from episode three of AFSOC Unfiltered, which exposed Slife’s blind spot on pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps, and the impact that shaving has on many African-American men – a conversation which later resulted in Chivis seeking laser hair removal.
“I didn’t know that it was a thing. Not because I don’t care, nor is it because I believe that ‘success only looks like me,’ I just didn’t know … until somebody pointed it out to me,” said Slife. “It took having someone with the courage to speak up and say ‘Hey this policy is creating a hardship, let me explain it to you.’”
“We have to go back to the fundamentals and ask ‘Why do we have this policy in the first place?’ A lot of times what we find is that the circumstances or the environment around which the policy was made have long since changed.” Slife continued. “If they don’t make sense anymore, let’s fix them right now so it doesn’t have to be an issue for future generations.”
Gen Slife ended the discussion encouraging Airmen not to give up on changing the culture of the Air Force. He reminded those listening that you might not be able to change policy, but you can affect the culture around yourself.
“As leaders, we have to be courageous enough to speak up, we have to be willing to listen to perspectives that are different than our own, and we have to establish an environment of trust and respect for all our Airmen,” said Slife. “I realize I can’t change the Air Force, but I can change my part of the Air Force."
For the link to the full podcast, visit https://www.cnas.org/events/virtual-roundtable-a-conversation-on-race-in-the-military-2