VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — What does it take to change a nation? What force has the power to move millions of people in their fundamental views of the world?
For Christopher Daniels, a U.S. Air Force colonel, that answer is simple: leadership. In his words, “The true agent of change is true leadership.”
True leadership is the same kind of leadership it took to form our nation and evolve it into the one we live in today.
“We are called the melting pot for a reason,” said Daniels, the 71st Mission Support Group commander. “A melting pot requires heat, a flame.”
That flame may come from the force of a thousand voices, but the spark, the catalyst of change, is individual leadership.
Our society identifies itself on an individual basis. All of us belong to larger communities, but we believe in the rights due to us as individuals.
This is espoused explicitly in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Daniels, who enlisted in the Air National Guard in 1986, stands by those same values. When asked how to solve the problem of discrimination, his answer was clear: individual merit.
It is that same idea of individual merit that has been foundational since the day we declared independence that will carry us through the biases we face as a nation and as a fighting force.
In fact, the military may be the model for progressive change.
“Things have gotten better in the service,” said Daniels about discrimination in the military. “We lead the nation with integration.”
The question is why? As members of a service that follows civilian leadership that is accountable to the civilian population, shouldn’t we be reactive to the majority’s shifts in values?
The answer lies within the structure of the military itself.
Daniels explained, “You may not agree with it personally, but get behind it. Our leaders reinforce change.”
When Air Force leadership takes action, we Airmen are compelled by our oaths to stand behind them regardless of our viewpoints. This unity in force provides the example for the rest of the nation to follow.
Daniels has chosen an auspicious man to follow, Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell.
“I’ve watched him over the years,” said Daniels. “He will fight the good fight. He transcends the uniform. When people look at him they don’t see a four star general; they see Colin Powell.”
Daniels’ inspiration also comes from a more personal source, home.
In the ‘40s Daniel’s grandfather was stationed at Vance as a rifleman. During that time segregation was a fact of life.
“On base things weren’t bad, but as soon as he went outside the gate, things were different,” said Daniels.
With such a personal identification with the past and a notion of how far we’ve come, it isn’t difficult to be inspired by Daniel’s optimism.
“[My grandfather] fought through, persevered and worked hard for a better future,” said Daniels.
It’s a future that today’s Airmen must work for on a daily basis by remembering where we came from and what we are striving to achieve.
Part of that remembrance is our observance of Black Heritage Month.
For Daniels, “It is a rush of life to remind each other … to help each other.”
While we may have our differences, we are all connected as brothers and sisters in arms. We safeguard that interdependence by fighting and defending our right to be different, but equal.
In 1971, the equal opportunity office was first established, under a different name.
As the Air Force has grown and our culture has changed, so has our mission.
Daniels said, “The mission of EO has changed. Originally it was to fight wrongs. Now, it’s making sure we remember where we came from.”
The Air Force cares about its heritage. One can see it daily on the proudly displayed art on the walls in every unit, in the monuments built to honor our veterans and embodied in the Airman’s Creed.
We’ve accomplished so much, but more work must be done to continue to build our legacy. With the demonstration of leadership by men like Daniels, our future is bright indeed.