Strength in diversity: Maj. Libbey’s perspective
By Maj. Michelle Libbey, 31st Fighter Wing Staff Agencies and Comptroller commander
/ Published June 12, 2014
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Potpourri of excellence.
The Air Force blessed me with two years of serving alongside the longest-serving general officer in Department of Defense history, Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers. He never missed an opportunity to turn a stranger in the halls of the Pentagon into a friend, or to share his battle-proven wisdom with junior officers like me.
Many of his impromptu lessons left indelible marks on the way I view our service. One in particular, was his proclamation: "Mentorship is not a program. It's a way of life. It's what you do, day in and day out, to improve your situation." I respectfully submit that General Flowers would say the same goes for diversity.
The United States Air Force is the world's premier air, space and cyber power because of our diversity, not despite it. Our heritage stems from pioneers such as 2nd Lt. Eugene Bullard, the first African-American military pilot in history and the only black pilot flying in World War I. Our lineage includes heroes such as the 99th Pursuit Squadron, more commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black flying squadron that emerged during World War II. We are indebted to trailblazers such as General Daniel "Chappie" James, the first black officer in history to earn four stars.
Furthermore, we applaud courageous women such as Staff Sgt. Esther Blake who enlisted in the first minute of the first hour of the first day Air Force duty was authorized for females, freeing her male counterparts for the Cold War's front lines by performing the clerical work mounting at home station.
Could any of these legends predict when they swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States between 1915 and 1948 that one day diversity would contribute to our synergy rather than standing as an obstacle against it?
On June 2, 2014, the 31st Fighter Wing's Pride Special Observance Committee extended me the honor of commemorating Aviano's first-ever Pride Month. I accepted the invitation without hesitation for several reasons. Recently, I approved a permissive temporary duty for an individual to travel to a state supporting marriage equality. During my initial in-brief with this Airman, I could tell he loves his mission, loves our Air Force and loves our country. Why, then, would such an outstanding Airman lose my confidence because he also loves a man?
I can only imagine how it felt to live according to the Air Force Core Values and somehow reconcile "Integrity First" with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I understand some members of our military community are offended by the fact that Congress repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2011, the Department of Defense joined the nation in recognizing Pride Month in 2013, and multi-colored banners might appear from time to time this month throughout the wing. However, the special observance is focused on Breaking Barriers and acknowledging the fact that lesbian, gay and bisexual Airmen have always served beside us, and value the same integrity, service and excellence that we hold dear. As a matter of fact, we fear what we fail to understand. Pride Month is an opportunity for professional Airmen to educate their wingmen (and women) in a dignified manner.
My "Pride" stems from the fact our Airmen are empowered to hold their heads high and serve with honor. I dream of the day when the Air Force no longer requires programs in order to celebrate diversity. The Air Force, by design, is comprised of men and women from all backgrounds, faiths and ethnic groups. We're incredible because we're different.
To be certain, the day will come when discrimination dissolves and Airmen are celebrated simultaneously for their cohesion as well as for their differences. Indeed, every Airman has a story.
At present, there are approximately 330,000 stories among our ranks--interwoven comedies and tragedies. In 2014, can you imagine serving in a homogenous Air Force similar to the one created in 1947? If you can, then you selected the wrong profession. Diversity will prevail each time it's pitted against prejudice.
Since the beginning of time, hatred played a disruptive role in segregating human beings. It stands to reason that hate is a necessary evil. Fellow Airmen, I urge you: hate ignorance; hate cruelty; hate judgment; and love your neighbors as yourselves.
We are, after all, a potpourri of excellence.