BY LT. COL. MARK DUBOIS SMITH
In 1987 I raised my right hand and swore to “Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” On that day, I became dedicated to our principles of Freedom, Justice and Equality, and joined the greatest Fighting Force ever known to mankind, the United States Air Force.
I once read that the “USAF Aims High and achieves mission excellence in part because of our Diversity.” Our Air Force opens windows of opportunity through diversity and builds a melting pot where various life experiences, cultural assortments, socioeconomic and educational variances, and a broad view of theoretical, spiritual and political backgrounds unite as one to fly, fight and win!
In my 24+ years of faithfully serving in our Armed Forces I just about did it all! Air Force Thunderbird, White House Fellow, Air Force Academy graduate, multiple Master’s degrees, multiple “Top-Gun awards”, #1 Instructor Pilot and #1 Evaluator Pilot, 3-time distinguished graduate, published author, public relations officer, recruiter and combat Fighter Pilot. I was indeed living the American Dream of opportunity and success.
Despite my extensive record of success and accomplishment, something just wasn’t quite right. I wasn’t climbing up the ladder as quickly as some of my peers. Less competent officers, with subpar records, lack of skills and leadership qualities and in some cases criminal activity were climbing the ladder faster than me. In fact, I got kicked off the
leadership ladder, despite being dubbed as a “keeper” and “future leader” in the United States Air Force. But why?
- “We didn’t, don’t and won’t want you here at this base!”
- “You don’t look like the typical Thunderbird!”
- “This whole Affirmative Action thing has allowed you & people who look like you opportunities & successes in life!”
- “No way in hell he is going to command!”
I met the “good ole’ boy network” which is still alive and well in our Air Force. To think that we live in a post-racial USAF/America is imprudent. Though a few have overcome the challenges and barriers, women and minorities remain well underrepresented in the senior ranks and in leadership positions, and junior minority officers are often
underrepresented in highly competitive areas like below-the-zone promotions, school selection and choice assignments.
I too dreamt of one day becoming a senior leader in our Air Force; possibly the Chief of Staff or perhaps even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Though being rated one of the best in the Air Force and having all the squares filled, that dream was denied at the hands of several failed Air Force leaders who chose nepotism, lineage and race over
performance, excellence and simply what was right. Are the notions of meritocracy and equality simply improbable? Does the USAF really believe in and follow the Core Values? Dover AFB, F-22 mishaps/system failures, Air Force Academy Scandals, Air Force Tanker Contract, Basic Training Recruit Abuse … ! You be the judge!
My story represents the tragedy of an unsustainable talent management approach being used by the USAF, which fails to properly account for the current and future requirements of our service. On this current course, diversity will simply be a once heard of myth that failed to ever come to fruition. The impact of this failure will be long lasting and will indeed be a threat to our future national security.
The USAF has always had the vision to proactively meet future weapons system requirements. We should have no less vision in proactively meeting current and future leadership needs. With the current practices, policies, lack of transparency and lack of accountability, the USAF will create our most homogeneous officer force ever. Highly
accomplished women and minorities with impressive backgrounds continue to either fail to make or disappear from the senior ranks. Without “significant” and “sustainable” change, this is a recipe for failure!
A young officer once asked me in a mentoring session, “If you couldn’t do it with your track record of performance and excellence, how is the average guy supposed to do it?” Today, the United States Air Force can’t answer this question, and it may choose not to. Make no mistake. I still love my country and my Air Force, but we must fulfill our
commitment to diversity. It is essential to our future and our national security! I hope you too realize that my story, many other stories just like it and the issue of failed diversity is simply a national tragedy and is “Too Big To Ignore!”
MARK DUBOIS SMITH is a former Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force (retired). For more information on his campaign to ensure diversity in the USAF go to: http://www.abetterairforce.org