Diversity, performance and mission success: A commander's perspective

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dave Berkland
  • 480th Fighter Squadron
How does a front-line Air Force fighter squadron, tasked to deliver combat air power at a moment's notice, incorporate and encourage the broad principles of diversity into its effort?  Quite simply, we cannot accept anything less than a diverse team to achieve mission success. 

For a combat fighter squadron, diversity is a force multiplier across our ranks and professional specialties.  With a diverse team of Airmen, we broaden our span of experiences and backgrounds, deepen our foundation of excellence in daily operations, and raise our standards of performance in all aspects of the mission.   

When life and death are in the balance, as they often are in combat, then race, ethnicity, gender, religion and other non-mission factors are irrelevant to what really matters: performance under fire.  In that sense, the military is similar to professional sports, where performance is paramount and integrating a broad, highly-skilled talent pool equates to superior results. 

Today we are challenged with a dizzying spectrum of extremely complex and networked adversaries, and more than ever we need a diverse team of creative and innovative warriors to cope with the constant change of this multifaceted environment. 

Fortunately, the 480th Fighter Squadron has such a team.    From our corps of brilliant enlisted ops professionals, elite intelligence section, all the way to the alone and unafraid fighter pilot in the F-16 cockpit, the Air Force sends us its very best across the board.  These Airmen represent a variety of races, religions, genders, and backgrounds. 

In our relatively small 40-Airman squadron, we have members born in four countries, 23 different states, speak dozens of different languages and represent ethnicities from around the world.  Ten were raised in military homes and have spent their entire lives as part of the superbly diverse extended military family. We have a master sergeant finishing her doctorate, a previous carpenter, seven musicians and the former University of Southern California student body president.   

These Airmen perform. In fiscal year 2014 alone, they finished a combat deployment to Afghanistan and hurdled sequestration with over 5,600 F-16 flying hours. Most recently, they completed a high-visibility Poland deployment for Operation Atlantic Resolve, assuring NATO allies of U.S. dedication to peace and stability in light of Russian aggression in the Ukraine. 

For their performance in just the last six months, the team has garnered awards from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, League of Latin American Citizens, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. Our Airmen may not all look the same or share common backgrounds, but they all have excellence in their DNA.  Ultimately, with this magically diverse team of warriors, our fighter squadron is more productive, creative, and reaches a higher standard of excellence in combat mission readiness.   

Our fighter squadron is diverse, and we need that today more than ever.  Our diversification effort is simple: we integrate the best, most creative and innovative Airmen the Air Force has to offer; all synergizing into a max-performing combat team.