SOUTHWEST ASIA — An Air Force staffed by different races, colors, genders, religions and national origins faces the challenge of building a culture of acceptance, inclusion and cohesion. In the deployed environment, that task becomes even more important, reminding all Airmen about the importance of equal opportunity.
“Our mission is to ensure the environments which people work in are free from any form of discrimination or sexual harassment,” said Master Sgt. Sonya Ferguson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing EO director. “Part of our job is to help people with those types of complaints.”
To accomplish that mission, Ferguson does not use the same tools she would stateside, such as the unit climate assessment. Instead, she keeps track of the nature of EO complaints over time and performs site visits around the base and tenant units to speak with Airmen directly about issues they face.
Complaints here are relatively low, Ferguson said, something she credits to leadership.
“A lot of it is the wing leadership, they do help a lot,” Ferguson said. “As soon as I got here, they actually showed they did care about the program, because I’ve heard horror stories where some people said ‘Oh, our wing commander doesn’t help, won’t do anything for us. They think EO shouldn’t even be on the base.’ And it just blows my mind that some people think like that, but I get support here.”
Ferguson praised Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III’s push to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, and the health and wellness inspection performed on base in mid-December. She was also grateful the 379th AEW commander promoted the same agenda at the subsequent commander’s call.
“It’s absolutely essential deployed Airmen who work and live together operate as a team,” said Brig. Gen. Roger Watkins, 379th AEW commander. “Maintaining a positive environment where we can operate free of sexual harassment, free of sexual assault, is critical to our ability to accomplish our combat mission.”
The positive experiences of Ferguson’s two months on base and her full-time position back home at Nellis AFB, Nev., has led her to consider remaining in EO. For those looking to change jobs and move into EO, she said it’s a wonderful job, but not to be taken lightly.
“You just got to make sure you have tough skin,” Ferguson said, adding that the rewarding job still entailed facing difficult people who may say something highly offensive, or who may be emotionally comprised from an experience. EO staff must remain professional, work complaints through the system, and leave difficult experiences at the office. “You don’t want to take that stuff home.”
Members looking for more information on EO or who have complaints can find the EO office in the back half of the Learning Resource Center. The office is available 24/7 for the needs of base personnel, and adheres to a strict system to remain impartial and professional.
“We’re not on anybody’s side,” Ferguson said. “We’re a neutral party, so we’re not there to help the complainant; we’re not there to help the alleged offender. We just work the process.”
The 99th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity office is available to speak to units and at commander’s calls. For more information, call the EO office at 652-4531.