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AF General: Awareness Key to Improved Diversity

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 27, 2005 – No woman wants to be a "female dean" anymore than she wants to be a "female ship driver," a "female pilot," a "female tank mechanic," or a "woman warrior," the first woman dean of faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy said here Sept. 24.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Air Force Brig. Gen. Dana H. Born, the first woman dean of faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy, speaks to attendees at the second annual "Academy Women" symposium at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Dana H. Born spoke to more than 100 attendees during the two-day second annual "Academy Women" symposium at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial on Sept. 23 and 24. Academy Women represents and supports service-academy women alumni, cadets, candidates and affiliates. The group also supports women of Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel and those participating in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program.

Born explained that most people picture men when thinking of military members. "Women's contributions can be largely overlooked if their gender isn't specified," Born said. This puts women servicemembers in a paradox, she said. Specifying gender by using terms like female soldier, airman or Marine makes women somehow different from the military norm, she said. However, she added, "Not specifying our gender renders us invisible."

For example, she said, many TV commentators talk about "bringing our boys home" from Iraq, without even a nod to the 30,000 women supporting operations there and in Afghanistan.

"What we want is the day we're truly a team, with no distinctions as to gender, race or culture -- a team in which all members are appreciated and, most importantly, respected," the general said.

Many regulatory safeguards are already in place, including: equal opportunity provisions; a redefinition of the combat-risk rule, which opened more positions to women; and new procedures for the victims of sexual harassment and assault, she said.

"The new procedures protect confidentiality and allow us to provide services to victims while allowing us to track the problem of sexual assault, prosecute offenders and keep that problem on the leadership's radar," Born said.

She said the academy is in the midst of steps that will embrace respect for diversity. This, the general said, is respecting one another's strengths, beliefs and background and having the integrity to follow that up with appropriate action.

"Without integrity and mutual respect, we simply aren't a team," Born noted. "And that's the heart of our philosophy of officer development at the academy and airmen development in our Air Force doctrine."

The Air Force encourages all members to reach their full potential, the general noted.

Born quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead as saying, "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." The key to diversity is cherishing the uniqueness of each individual, while providing the "sameness," which builds a team, Born said. Sameness comes from common values, common training, common mission, and common focus, she added.

The academy is moving to diversify its structure by increasing the number of women air officers in command positions. In recent years the academy has added a significant number of enlisted members to the training staff so cadets can observe and learn from the enlisted force they will one day lead.

The key to improved diversity is awareness, Born noted. "We've seen in recent years the success of increased awareness -- awareness regarding sexual assault and awareness regarding respect for others' religious practices, as well as respect for those who don't practice a religion," Born said. "These groups, I'm sure, appreciate the importance of diversity awareness, but we need to get beyond gender and religious diversity and start with an overall change to our culture ... and the way we do business."

The general said the academy is in the midst of a years-long plan for culture change called the "Officer Development System." She said this system represents the most sweeping change in the academy's 50-year history with regard to how cadets are developed into future leaders.

"It's designed to build officers of character in an incremental fashion, by giving each cadet increasing leadership responsibilities depending upon his or her class year," Born said. "This new ODS model is exactly how we groom members of the active-duty Air Force."

Born told the gathering of Academy Women that an incalculable number of opportunities exist to build the leadership of the 21st century. "Our goal, or course, is to create officers of character," she said. "We want to cultivate officers with the utmost in integrity and moral standards -- providing an education which helps cadets strive for and practice our core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all they do."

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Brig. Gen. Dana H. Born, USAF

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