TUCSON, Ariz. — Though Air National Guardsmen wear the same shade of green on their Airman Battle Uniforms or flight suits, Chief Master Sgt. Jacinta Figueroa points to how variety is important when it comes to the mindset of the 162nd Wing Airman.
“You don’t want to color with the same crayon because everything is going to look the same. You want a box of different colors – because you want something to be bigger and brighter,” she said. “If everybody thinks the same, and processes information the same, you are not going to get the bigger picture.”
As an equal opportunity advisor for the 162nd Wing, Figueroa’s position is not confined to processing complaints and handling alternative dispute resolutions. She is in the people business, ensuring that wing supervisors are able to effectively harness the talent underneath them by fostering a spirit of diversity and inclusion – critical elements needed for an effective, all-volunteer military force.
“It’s more than just about ‘checking the box,'” said Figueroa, who brings a civilian background on equal opportunity training to the wing. “This is really about addressing issues and educating our Airman.”
Failure to initiate such an effort and simply ignoring workplace issues, she added, hampers production, quality and ultimately, the mission readiness factor of an Air Guard wing with a global reach.
But diversity and inclusion topics also involves embracing members of different races and backgrounds, which as history has proven, translates into American military achievements – as evident by the number of enemy aircraft shot down by the Tuskegee Airmen, or achieving communications dominance for World War II Marines, courtesy of the Navajo Code-Talkers.
“Our outside characteristics don’t tell the person that is inside,” Figueroa explained. “Somebody’s intelligence, thought process and education level – all of that you can’t see by what is on the outside.”
The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, based out of Patrick Air Force base in Florida, sets the guiding principles related to diversity and inclusion, with many of their special observance posters and promotional items showcased at the 162nd Wing.
For Chief Master Sgt. Rose Mardula, human resources advisor at the 162nd Wing, embracing diversity and inclusion is non-negotiable when it comes to building future Air Force leaders.
“Those who don’t accept others who are different than they are will struggle, and they will be left behind,” Mardula said. “We are here to perform the mission, and in order to do that, we must have a solid foundation of acceptance.”