Team March race discussions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Micah Coate
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs

On June 1, 2020, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright posted a candid and passionate op-ed on his official social media pages regarding his fears and perspective about what it has been like to be a Black man in the Air Force.

“I am outraged at watching another Black man die on television before our very eyes,” Wright wrote. “What happens all too often in this country to Black men who are subjected to police brutality that ends in death...could happen to me. As shocking as that may sound to some of you...I hope you realize that racism/discrimination/exclusion does not care much about position, titles, or yes, it could happen to you, or one of your friends, or your Airmen, or your NCOIC, your Flight Chief, your Squadron Commander or even your Wing Commander.”

His words, which were both a direct response to the current nation-wide protests against racism and police brutality, and a to a recently released report that found racial disparities in the Air Force’s own justice system, resonated with many Airmen.

“When I read the letter it was a complete exhale,” said Chief Master Sgt. Adam Swift, 452nd Air Mobility Wing Religious Affairs Airman. “I have to balance this tension of being a senior enlisted leader and showing up as myself, but when Chief Wright expressed himself in the way that he did it was a relief that what I was feeling could be expressed.”

Shortly after Wright’s op-ed was posted, Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, supported the chief’s sentiments in a memo that he instructed leadership to share with all Air Force personnel.

“As the Air Force’s military leadership, we reflect on and acknowledge that what happens on America’s streets is also resident in our Air Force,” wrote Goldfein. “We will not shy away from this; as leaders and as Airmen, we will own our part and confront it head on... So let’s start a conversation acknowledging we have many valued Airmen who live and work for One Nation under God, indivisible...but for them...without liberty and justice for all.”

In response, personnel at March Air Reserve Base have done just that – started a conversation. The Chaplain’s office, in association with the March Community Action Team, has been organizing and facilitating regular open forums on the topic of race relations within our ranks since June.

“We wanted to give our Airmen an outlet to talk about it, from any perspective.” said Swift. “(We wanted to give them) an open forum where members can fully express themselves in whatever way they feel is appropriate.”

Tech. Sgt. Richard Willis Jr., 56th Aerial Port Squadron and March Field Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard member, is one such Airman.

“The discussions have been a way for me to release some of the anxiety that I was feeling about racial disparity,” Willis said. “I’ve shared my personal experiences with inequality within the military, as well as incidents that have happened in my local area, hoping to give insight into my perspective as well as to give a voice and a face to the suffrage.”

At the meetings, trained moderators facilitate the discussion in order to ensure that all who attend feel comfortable speaking.

“There have been people who come with varying perspectives,” said Swift. “Our facilitators are trained to keep the conversations stay within line. (Participants) may ask provocative questions, but they make sure that the space remains safe so that no one is attacked for what they say.”

Swift said that this format has been successful so far, and that at every meeting at least a few participants will stay after the scheduled discussion time to continue conversing in the parking lot.

However, while some say that it has been a cathartic experience, it has also sometimes lead to more frustration and the realization of new obstacles.

“What gives me the most pause when I think of what we want to accomplish in these discussions is how we can bring the people that think they have nothing to gain, to the table,” Willis said. “There are many people who are not willing to see that a problem exists. And then there is often someone who fears that they will have to give up something to make room for the equal treatment of all.”

Other participants have addressed their concern that, while open conversation is good, having it hasn’t always led to actual change.

“We have folks who say ‘now what’s going to happen? Because I’ve been talking about it for the 20 plus years that I’ve been in the Air Force and we’re still having this conversation,'” Swift said.

To help change such feelings and practices, the organizers of the forums intend to evolve them into something more than just conversation. After several successful meetings, they have started using the information they have gathered to pass solid thoughts and ideas up the chain of command, which can then be acted upon by leadership.

“Some of it is low hanging fruit, such as how we verbally address one another and communicate.” Swift said. “Then there are other things that we are aware will need long term solutions, not fixes that will happen overnight.”

The reason for this is that the greatest of the hoped-for changes is not material, but instead changes in minds, attitudes and sometimes long-held misconceptions.

“I hope that the discussions will lead to understanding and empathy, and then, hopefully, to the desire to change,” said Willis. “In this process I’ve seen just how unintentionally unaware people can be, including me. I have learned that when you are unaffected by inequality, it seems to be very easy to miss it happening to others right in front of you.”

Despite there being no quick and easy fix to the issue of racial disparity and bias, Swift is confident that Air Force leadership is heading in the right direction.

“We have great support from our leadership here at March,” said Swift. “If there’s an issue and we can present a resolution, they are behind it. Air Force leadership across the board, by and large, has stood up and are taking steps in the right direction.”

Swift also urges all March Airmen, no matter their views on the issue, to join the conversation.

“We have had people who are frustrated because of what has been going on, people who feel like they’ve been victimized by what’s going on, people who don’t understand what’s going on, and people who want to help but don’t know how,” Swift said. “Wherever they land on this topic, people have come, shared their perspective, then been able to leave having learned something about someone else’s perspective.”

Willis echoed those sentiments.

“It is extremely liberating to feel heard no matter where you fall on the spectrum,” said Willis. “Your voice and opinions are valid and important and this is an opportunity to share them with people that are there to listen.”

For more information about the race discussions, or for information on how to start your own discussion within your unit, contact the chaplain’s office at 951-655-4105.

To read the op-ed “Who Am I?” by CMSgt. Wright, visit the official CMSAF Facebook page at  

To watch the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the topic of racial disparity in the military justice system, follow this link: