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Town hall opens dialogue about racial disparity

Col. Sean Carpenter, 926th Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Scott, 926th Wing command chief, hosted the wing's first town hall meeting discussing racial disparity on July 11, 2020, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting was held virtually through Zoom and included an anonymous question and answer portion utilizing a tab on the Air Force Connect app. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Paige Yenke)

Col. Sean Carpenter, 926th Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Scott, 926th Wing command chief, hosted the wing's first town hall meeting discussing racial disparity on July 11, 2020, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting was held virtually through Zoom and included an anonymous question and answer portion utilizing a tab on the Air Force Connect app. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Paige Yenke)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

Race remains one of the most difficult topics to discuss in the workplace. However, the Air Force has recognized that the need to have candid, respectful dialogue with colleagues on the topic has never been more crucial.

At the 926th Wing, leadership hosted a virtual town hall meeting on racial disparity, June 11, 2020 from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The goal of the town hall was to create an open dialogue and have a tough conversation about what is truly on the minds of the Airmen and to listen and learn about their personal experiences.

Col. Carpenter, 926th WG commander, welcomed 100 participants via Zoom from across the geographically separated wing, during a weekend that had many Airmen teleworking due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I appreciate you coming to work this weekend, I appreciate you listening in, and I appreciate your ideas and your courage in bringing them up,” he said in his opening remarks.

Airmen listened to a panel of diverse leaders as they shared their experiences and were able to ask questions, either via Zoom or anonymously via the Air Force Connect app.

“I was very pleased that we successfully incorporated the app into the process to allow our Airmen to ask unattributed questions,” Carpenter said. “Those who sent queries via the app sparked very honest and open discussion.”

The panel included Col. Michael Egbalic, 926th WG director of staff, Chief Master Sgt. Rose Gamble, 926th Operations Group, Aviation Resource Management superintendent, and Senior Master Sgt. Martin Walker, 926th Force Support Squadron, Mission Personal Section superintendent. Maj. Michael J. Engfer, 926th WG chaplain and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Scott, 926th WG command chief, were also present to share their leadership perspectives.

Gamble began the discussion by expressing the need for the work environment to be a place of inclusion for all Airmen.

“I believe our diversity strengthens our mission and unifies us, I think it’s important that we continue to foster a work environment that is inclusive to our Airmen and that they feel valued,” she said. “It’s important that we continue to make sure that they feel that they are a part of the team.”

Walker, who was asked by Carpenter to share his perspective on racial disparity, said that while not all experiences are negative, it’s irresponsible for those who have not had to deal with racial disparity to act like it doesn’t happen.

“This is a reality of what we live and have lived for decades and decades,” he said. “It’s disheartening for those who don’t wear this skin to think we’re overacting.”

He said his background of growing up in East Oakland coupled with being a military member provides him with an awareness that allows him to see situations from multiple lenses.

“I have tried to be a middle ground voice of reason from different perspectives on the subject,” Walker said. “I have experience from both sides of the spectrum and I try to be the voice of reason, logic and credibility and see different situations from multiple perspectives and try to bring some balance to them.”

Walker continues to work with various local organizations involved in voter awareness, police oversight and mentorship.

For Gamble, the panel was an opportunity to draw from her personal experience.

“It was raw and uncut,” she said. “It was an important first step into a much needed dialog with leadership and our Airmen. I think introducing various ethnicities in the panels will help us improve the climate and strengthen our values as a Wing.”

Gamble believed that as we move forward, it’s important to keep these conversations authentic and break it down even further into smaller groups amongst the units on a regular basis.

With the success of the first town hall behind them, leadership is now looking at ways to increase involvement levels for future events, giving all 926th WG Airmen a chance to share in the dialogue.

“I was very encouraged by the participation,” Carpenter said. “Rest assured, this will not be the only or last event that we have on this subject. As a wing, we’ll need to incorporate this into every Airman’s resiliency.”