How the Air Force Watchdog Will Study Racial Disparities

The Air Force Inspector General wants to hear from a broad range of Airmen as it tries to identify racial biases in the service’s justice and professional development systems.

Officials will first focus on policies and processes that may have largely disadvantaged black Airmen, after multiple outside reports showed the Air Force disproportionately doles out punishment to young black personnel. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright recently announced a “full and independent review …  to look to uncover where the problem lies, and how we can fix it.” The deep-dive will extend to the newly created Space Force, which falls under the Department of the Air Force.

Statistics show that black male Airmen “under the age of 25 and with less than five years of service receive [nonjudicial punishment] and courts-martial actions at a higher rate than similarly situated white male Airmen,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell, the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General, recently said.

The IG created a Senior Leader Advisory Group composed of 10 black general officers, 10 black enlisted chiefs, and four black members of the Air Force’s senior executive service. Airmen from all major commands will be selected to join the team as well. The service’s watchdog will use interviews, group discussions, and targeted and anonymous surveys to root out discrimination in how the Air Force both punishes and advances Airmen, the Air Force detailed in a June 10 release.

The Inspector General will publish the results of its study and report to Congress, though it’s unclear how long the review will last.

“We want to make sure our air and space professionals are able to share their experiences and concerns, and we want to empower them to be a part of the solution,” Air Force IG Lt. Gen. Sami Said said in the release. “Their voices will be heard and captured for the record. We have a tremendous opportunity here, and we will not waste it.”

Anonymous surveys will be available on by mid-June, with the option for respondents to add their own comments.

The review follows the recent death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last month. Floyd’s death prompted nationwide protests and a new look at racial disparities in the American justice system.

“What happens on America’s streets is also resident in our Air Force,” Goldfein, in a June 2 letter to wing commanders, said. “Sometimes it’s explicit, sometimes it’s subtle, but we are not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination, and unconscious bias. We see this in the [apparent] inequity in our application of military justice. We will not shy away from this.”