SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
The global pandemic, social unrest and economic concerns have many Airmen feeling uneasy leading Chief Master Sgt. Boston Alexander, Peterson-Schriever Garrison command chief, to launch Crucial Conversations.
Crucial Conversations is a sit-down discussion with Airmen to speak, listen and learn about current events and issues affecting them, with hopes of educating others while simultaneously working to find solutions.
“There are some things we believe as senior leaders, but we want to know what’s going through the minds of our Airmen,” Alexander said. “We created a forum so people could communicate directly with senior leaders and each other to share what’s on their minds. It’s open, there’s no attribution and no rank requirement. We just ask you treat everyone in attendance with dignity and respect.”
Since June 26, Alexander has hosted five thus far, one in the wing conference room, the First Term Airman’s Course classroom and the base event center. Currently, there isn’t a plan to have a permanent location for the event.
“We do this to continue the development of a culture of inclusion, an environment that fosters respect for all people,” Alexander said. “We are the best at what we do because of our diversity. Diversity and inclusion are critical in us maintaining our edge as the world’s greatest Air and Space Forces.”
Crucial Conversations is a part of a larger initiative developed by Alexander and Col. James Smith, P-S GAR commander, with the support of other senior leaders on the installation.
The initiative is called LEAD and was implemented June 26 by Alexander.
L – Listen.
E – Educate.
A – Advocate.
D – Develop.
In past Crucial Conversations, the wing commander, the group chiefs and the first sergeants have attended alongside Alexander to expand their knowledge from the information provided by those taking part and offered their perspectives on issues.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to learn and listen,” said Master Sgt. Benjamin Davis, 50th Mission Support Group and Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant. “It’s a chance for Airmen to learn what our wingman have gone through, are currently going through and a chance for us to become better wingmen through that knowledge.”
As another initiative to champion diversity and inclusion, the installation command team is planning to send out an anonymous three-to-four question survey to Airmen on the installation. The questions will be focused on Airmen’s experiences with diversity on the installation. Similarly, the Air Force Inspector General recently sent out a racial disparity survey to Airmen.
“As a leader, one of the biggest things you can learn is that, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know,’” Davis said. “This is a great opportunity to learn from my wingmen, and in doing so, it allows me to see things differently. By listening, we’re better able to understand those we serve with.”
However, the panel isn’t just for senior leaders to learn from Airmen – it’s for Airmen to do the same. Airmen are able to voice their struggles and concerns not only to leaders, but their total force wingmen.
“Crucial Conversations is about things we consider taboo - race, religion, sexual orientation - things that make us feel uncomfortable but need to be talked about,” said Capt. Carmilya Jones, 50th Operations Support Squadron senior instructor. “If we continue to sweep things under the rug, we’re never going to move forward. History is often made through tough conversations like this.”
Jones went on to reference the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of Black/African American pilots to serve in the armed forces. She said if it weren’t for political and military leaders having crucial conversations, the group of Airmen, who performed more than 1,370 combat missions, may have never been formed.
“Having these crucial conversations encourages me to keep on doing what I do as a space professional,” Jones said. “Knowing I have leadership in my corner [who are] willing to allow me the space to talk about my place in this world is incredible. People need to share what they’re going through, and this is a great way to do that.”
The notification of the event is sent out through an email Airmen must respond to in order to attend. There are currently limitations on attendance due to COVID-19, so it’s first come, first served. The forum usually sees 30 Airmen attend.
“There are things that are going on in our world, things your teammates are going through that you may not know,” Alexander said. “Simply because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. We all come from different walks of life and have different experiences, and we’re using those experiences to make our team better.”
Alexander plans to host the conversation weekly. The email will include the date, time and location of the event. All Airmen on the installation are invited to attend – regardless of rank, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic upbringing.
“The fact leadership is hosting this is awesome, it speaks volumes,” Jones said. “They could’ve just ignored this and kept pushing, but they made the decision to talk about this. In the profession of arms, it’s easy to say, ‘I wear the same uniform, it shouldn’t matter what color or creed you are,’ but it’s important. Our culture plays a role in why we serve, and what we do in and out of uniform.”
As part of their LEAD initiative, the P-S GAR leadership team is also placing drop boxes across the installation, inside and outside of the restricted area. Airmen will be able to anonymously write-in their experiences and any hardships they may have gone through on the installation. The only people to see these papers will be the command chief, commander and the Equal Opportunity Office.
The P-S GAR leadership team plans to use the information they receive from drop boxes and surveys to address how Airmen’s concerns came about and create permanent solutions through training, programs and resources.
“We have an opportunity through our actions to provide hope,” Alexander said. “We have teammates who are hurting, teammates who are confused [and] unsure about things. When we come together as a family, when we show we are our brothers and sisters keepers, that we can listen to each other and learn something, it builds hope. I believe we have way more good than bad in this world - and I believe together there is no force that can stop us.”