Strength in Diversity: It's all black and white, isn't it?

  • Published
  • By Col. David B. Cox
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing vice commander
Diversity is a celebration of the differences we have from each other. Air Force policies provide for equal opportunity and treatment for all members irrespective of their race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

It has not always been this way. In fact, when our Air Force story began, we couldn't have been farther from those principles. Segregation was in full force and women were banned from most opportunities. A lot of Air Force units can trace their history to World War II, and I have had the privilege to serve in two very storied units.

The 99th Flying Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, traces its roots to the 99th Pursuit Squadron and later the 99th Fighter Squadron. The "Red Tails" were the first segregated Army Air Corps unit to see combat in Europe. I had the honor to follow Benjamin O. Davis, former Tuskegee Airman commander, many years later as the squadron commander. I had the opportunity to share the Tuskegee Airmen story to a wide variety of audiences from school kids to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

A couple times each year, we would invite former Tuskegee Airmen share their first-hand experiences of the unit during World War II. To help share the story, the unit had a long hallway with a mural showing the Airmen, over time, from Tuskegee, Alabama through to North Africa and into Italy. There were pictures of Airmen lined up for meals, doing PT, and working on or flying airplanes.

I would regularly point out to the group the similarities these Airmen had to other units past and current. The black and white photos lost the clarity of race so all you saw were Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen's war record speaks for itself, and because of that it helped lead the way to race integration in the Department of Defense shortly after the war.

The 100th ARW traces its roots to the 100th Bomb Group and its iconic black and white "Square D" painted on B-17 Flying Fortresses that flew from Thorpe Abbotts, England. Nicknames are funny things; once you get one, it usually sticks whether you like it or not. The 100th BG did not set out to earn the Bloody Hundredth name, however, after sustaining 19 aircraft losses in three days, the name stuck.

The challenge was to recover and return to fighting, quickly. The unit was immortalized in the war movie 12 O'clock High. Through discipline and training the unit not only survived, it thrived. As the vice wing commander of the 100th ARW, I get to share the history of unit. Once again, the black and white photos at the 100th BG look very similar to those of the 99th PS.

Red tails or the black and white Square D's are visible reminders to our Airmen today that when the going gets tough, and it is going get tough, you need to find something to carry you on. At RAF Mildenhall we use the Square D way or culture to guide us.

It is a culture where Airmen treat one another with dignity and respect, make responsible choices and build upon the legacy of those who have gone before us. The pictures of today are vivid high definition and in full Technicolor where the visible diversity means that we acknowledge our differences while celebrating our similarities.