Air Force Orders New Review of Racial Disparities Focused on Asian, Hispanic Communities

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Detachment 12.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. answers a question from 1st Lt. Dylan Brown, Kessel Run government engagement lead, during an interview following a tour of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Detachment 12, Kessel Run, at their headquarters in Boston, Feb. 16, 2021. (Todd Maki/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force Inspector General has opened another independent review into how racial disparities in the administration of military justice affect airmen. The new review will focus on differences in outcome by race, gender and ethnicity within the Asian, Hispanic and American Indian communities in the service, officials announced Friday.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond directed Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami Said to examine how members of these groups may be adversely affected within the military judicial system and how their career and other developmental opportunities compare with those of white airmen.

The review will also include Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and Latinx members, the service said in a release.

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"The IG team has already begun to gather information contained in a wide array of previous reports, studies and various databases across the Department of the Air Force," Roth said in the release. "Although the data is helpful, the most important information will come directly from our airmen and Guardians."

In December, the Air Force released the findings from its first racial disparity review, which compared the experiences of Black service members with those of their peers. That six-month review concluded that Black airmen are nearly twice as likely to be suspects in a military criminal investigation, arrested or apprehended by base patrol, or involuntarily discharged based on misconduct.

The IG's office received more than 123,000 survey responses from active-duty, Guard and Reserve members and conducted 138 group interviews -- ranging from 12 to 50 service members, officer and enlisted, per group in two-hour discussions -- to understand where Black airmen are at a disadvantage. However, the review could not define the causes, Said said in December after its publication.

For some key findings, "we're not implying that [either] racism or bias is the causal factor of such risk disparity," Said told reporters at the time. "That requires more detailed assessment and analysis. When we say 'disparity,' it doesn't imply, immediately, racism, bias or otherwise."

While the report's authors said it was "impossible" to validate overt bias or racism, including in job placement and promotion rates, they wrote that the themes that emerged from the feedback "make it reasonable to conclude that individual acts of racism have occurred in the Department of the Air Force and that racial bias contributes to the disparities found by the review team," whether consciously or unconsciously.

The review also included an examination of military justice data dating back to 2012.

"We learned a lot from the Department of the Air Force's initial disparity review, and we know we'll learn much more from this second review as well," Roth said Friday.

Roth, Brown and Raymond said further analysis is needed to ensure "fair and equitable discipline and development" for all, according to the release.

"We are committed to promoting an environment free from personal, social and institutional barriers that might prevent our members from rising to their highest potential. Diversity makes us a stronger and more capable force," the senior leaders said.

Like its predecessor, the second review will take six months to complete and incorporate surveys distributed to enlisted, officer and civilian members across the force.

Members can remain anonymous in their survey answers, the release states.

News of the review comes days after the service announced it will start standardizing how it tracks adverse information for those ranked major and above who are up for promotion.

Beginning March 1, any negative information on O-4s and higher must be filed in the officer's master personnel records group and Officer's Selection Record "for consideration by both regular and reserve promotion selection, special selection, federal recognition, and selective continuation boards," the service said in a release.

The information includes:

  • Any substantiated adverse findings or conclusions from an officially documented investigation or inquiry, regardless of whether command action was taken
  • Approved court-martial findings of guilt
  • Non-judicial punishment pursuant to Article 15 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice
  • Letters of Reprimand
  • Letters of Admonishment
  • Notices of Relief of Command (for cause)
  • Letters of Counseling related to a substantiated adverse finding or conclusion from an officially documented investigation or inquiry

While some of this information was already mandatory, commanders previously could withhold adverse findings at their discretion for a promotion package, according to Air Force Magazine. The previous disclosure process mostly pertained to general officer boards.

The new rule was stipulated by lawmakers in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

While the change mostly affects majors, lieutenant colonels and above, airmen and Space Force Guardians up for promotion to captain could also be affected if they "received significant media attention" on any negative actions that occurred in their career, the release said.

The rule is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, meaning any adverse action that occurred from that date forward can be used toward future promotion consideration.

"Extraordinarily adverse," nonjudicial punishments and approved court-martial findings that date prior to Jan. 1, 2012, will also be filed "in an officer's selection record for both field grade and company grade officers," the release said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Black Airmen More Likely to Be Investigated, Arrested and Discharged, Air Force Finds

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