Goldfein: Embracing Diversity Isn’t About Being Politically Correct, It’s a “Warfighting Imperative”

CSAF Gen. David Goldfein speaks at AFA's 2019 Air Warfare Symposium on March 1, 2019, in Orlando, Florida. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

Improving diversity and acceptance across the Air Force isn’t just about being politically correct, it’s a “warfighting imperative,” USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Friday.

Speaking to a room packed full of airmen at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium, Goldfein said for himself and many leaders across the service, it can be hard to recognize issues other airmen face. These leaders need to accept that “we have blinders on as leaders,” and need to reach out to airmen from all backgrounds, races, genders, etc., to point out ways to improve.

“The only way we can see that is to surround ourselves and build teams in ways that others can point them out for us,” Goldfein said, adding that there needs to be a “big tent” culture of acceptance in the Air Force.

Goldfein said in his own career he had his own blinders on because the military experience in many ways is made for people like him. He always flew in equipment that is made for men, unlike women who can be forced to fly a nine-hour sortie in equipment not built for them. He said he’s “never been the only one of me in a room.”

“Every time I’ve been in a room, most people in that room looked like me, sound like me,” he said.

Unlike many women in the Air Force, he’s never been “scrutinized to a different level” or been told jokes that could be offensive.

To illustrate his point, Goldfein told a story about his first chief master sergeant when he was a squadron commander, and a box. One day, the chief came into his office and handed him the box and said that it “makes your airmen mad” and it “oughta make you mad.” He said he couldn’t understand his point. Looking closer, it was a box of flesh colored Band-Aids.

“I ain’t getting it,” Goldfein said he told him.

The chief pulled out the pink, “flesh-colored” Band-Aid and put it on his skin. The chief is black, the Band-Aid is made for white people, and the bandage completely stuck out.

“He said, ‘That ought to make you mad, because it makes a lot of your airmen mad.’ And he winked and he walked out,” Goldfein said. “So what’s the moral of the story, as leaders, as servant leaders. I couldn’t see it. I could’ve stared at that thing for weeks and I would never have seen it.”

It takes someone from a different background to be able to point out something you could never see as an issue, Goldfein said.

“The challenges we face as a nation are wicked hard, and it’s going to take folks with different backgrounds, different life experiences, and different perspectives to be able to come in and sit down together and provide the creative solutions that we as a nation need to be able to fight and win,” he said.