WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Wright-Patterson Air Force Base launched its campaign to address social justice and diversity inclusion concerns July 10. The socially distanced 5K Ruck March/Walk for Social Justice & Diversity Inclusion was held at Bass Lake and included waves of dozens of Airmen, civilians and other participants.
Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, kicked off the morning’s activities.
“This is the start of a discussion, part of a journey and action we are taking,” he said. “With this ruck march, I ask you to carry a little bit more of a burden on your shoulders, read the meaningful quotes posted along the way and think about what they say.
“You are the change,” Miller continued. “You make the choice about how you treat people; how you interact; whether you have the courage to step up and stop something from going any further; correct somebody and tell them when they are wrong; understand perspective; open up and listen and ignite change.”
Miller told the participants they are the architects of the Air Force’s future.
“As we think about diversity, as we think about inclusion, that rides on our shoulders just like these rucks ride on your shoulders during this march,” he said. “It is up to us to come together and do something about it. The decisions of the present are the architect of our future. I ask you to join this ‘design team’ and make a difference. This is the first step in a long journey as we look to a better future and make, no kidding, change.”
Miller also pointed to a second event being held: “Racial Disparity Summit: Listen to Understand from All Perspectives,” which was held July 16. The no-rank, no-uniform event offered an open discussion forum for all Airmen to have their voices heard, share their experiences, gain understanding and perspective, and support one another in the journey toward social and racial justice.
“I’m extremely proud of the team as they start to strap on this challenge,” Miller said. “These conversations are hard to have, but we have some amazing leaders —â€“ both our officer and enlisted as well as our civilian team —â€“ that are stepping up and leading the charge. At the end of the day, we will move beyond conversations to action, truly break down where we have some problems, and root them out at the source.”
Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Arbona, command chief master sergeant, said, “What’s great about these events is they result from the ideas of the men and women across the 88th Air Base Wing. We have some senior NCOs, junior NCOs and CGOs leading the charge and who are part of this dynamic team taking this conversation to the next level.
“We have some very proactive leaders at the tactical level who said, ‘We need to do something about this’, and they are taking the reins,” Arbona said.
Master Sgt. Jesus Gonzalez, 88th Security Forces Squadron, served as event project manager, assisted by Senior Master Sgt. Starr Williams, 88th Medical Group; Master Sgt. Durell Lawton, 711th Human Performance Wing and president of Top 3; and Senior Master Sgt. Quami King, 88th Medical Group.
“We started this as a kickoff to an enduring effort that we are trying to ignite on this base,” Gonzalez said.
“Today signifies that we’re trying to advance to our capital A-Airmen what is happening around the world,” Williams said. “Our mission is to create a platform for folks to have their voices heard, that it’s inclusive and sustainable. It’s not a ‘one and done.’ Other events will follow.
“We want to educate and listen to understand,” she continued. “This topic is unclear; it’s blurry. Hence the title of ‘A Blurred Line.’”
“Our community and nation have been ignited over the past couple of months,” Lawton said, “to include discussions by the Air Force chief of staff and chief master sergeant of the Air Force that address race relations. We wanted to provide an avenue for Airmen Basic to chief master sergeants to have their voices be heard as well. Not only do we have this challenge of diversity, but there are other issues that affect Airmen that are hard to talk about. We can talk about it here.”
King said he is asking everyone to follow the initiative’s Facebook Page: Airman Fight for Social Justice and Diversity Inclusion, https://www.facebook.com/AirmansFight2020/posts/110212317420456 and @AirmensFight2020.
“We just launched this; we have more than 100 followers already,” King said. “It’s more than just Wright-Patt.”
Staff Sgt. Melchizevek Martin, 88th Force Support Squadron, said he wanted to march with his 23-pound ruck sack in support of the initiative.
“I think it’s good that we come together for a peaceful walk to show what we stand for,” he said. “We need to make a change with everything going on. We need to come together and not judge each other by the outside and judge instead by our hearts and who we are personally.”
Staff Sgt. Eric Robertson, 88 SFS, brought Military Working Dog Kkaun, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, to the march.
“I think it’s great we are having this on base with everything that is going on,” Robertson said.
Airman First Class John Rocco, medical laboratory technician student, said he was volunteering as a traffic controller because he liked the cause.
“I like what this event stands for. It’s a big issue with today’s current events,” he said. “It is not peaceful right now. There are obviously peaceful protests but when it comes to riots and police brutality, it’s gone too far.”
Airman Basic Hannah Browning, 88 SFS, arrived on base at the beginning of July and volunteered for the event.
“Diversity is important. It’s good for people from different cultures to get to know each other,” she said.