Tampa and MacDill leaders discuss diversity and inclusion

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew R. Matlock
  • 927th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Leaders from the 6th Air Refueling Wing hosted a panel of Tampa civic leaders via a live online event Feb. 5 to discuss diversity and inclusion as it relates to MacDill AFB and the located community. 

Air Force diversity includes but is not limited to: personal life experiences, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural knowledge, educational background, work experience, language abilities, physical abilities, philosophical and spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.

Inclusion is the process of creating a culture where all members of an organization are free to make their fullest contributions to the success of the group and where there are no unnecessary barriers to success.

Col. Benjamin Jonsson, Commander of the 6th ARW, opened the online discussion by outlining the wing’s mission to tackle diversity and inclusion on the base.

“The MacDill team comes from different races, backgrounds and cultures, and we are committed to creating an environment to where every member of our team is able to reach their goals,” said Jonsson.

The four person panel was comprised of local civil leader George Howell, Tampa community leader and former honorary commander, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shelina Frey, community leader and former Air Mobility Command Command Chief Master Sergeant, retired Air Force Colonel Tonja Brickhouse, community leader and former AMC Air Transportation Division Lead and retired Air Force Colonel Reginald Godbolt, former commander of the 6th Maintenance Group at MacDill AFB.

Howell, a Tampa native and 32-year member of the Tampa Bay History Center, led the panel by speaking of the city’s diverse cultural history that spans more than 500 years.

“The center did a deep dive into the many people, cultures and customs and lives of those who’ve left their footprints and objects here for centuries,” explained Howell. “It was a tremendously educational experience for me and displayed diversity on a grand scale.”

After discussing his involvement in the local community and ties to MacDill, Howell turned the floor over to the other panel members, Frey, Brickhouse and Godbolt, who spoke of their own experiences while growing up as black members in their communities. Some of their negative experiences occurred while wearing the Air Force uniform.

“After coming back to McGuire [AFB] in the 90’s as a squadron commander, the only African-American squadron commander on the base at the time, and what happens? White supremacists go and attack my house, and leave notes saying ‘n----- go home’,” Brickhouse said after recounting a permanent change of station from an overseas assignment. “I have an eight year old child in the house and they go and paint swastikas on buildings at McGuire Air Force Base.”

While some of their experiences were negative during their Air Force careers, the veteran panel members also shared some of their successes. Successes due to perseverance, dedication and the inspiration of others that helped pushed them through the face of adversity.

The panel also took questions from the audience and discussed actions to educate and further eradicate inequalities in the MacDill AFB and Tampa communities.

When asked how she taught inclusion to senior leaders at AMC, Frey talked about how important self-growth was in mentoring.

“So as I talk to my first sergeants, I tell them listen first and then think about you, because there are things you are going to hear that you’ve never experienced before, because you didn’t grow up where I grew up or where they grew up,” Frey said. “We have interracial marriages and same sex couples and folks are freaking out because they don’t understand it, or they don’t believe in it, so I always tell them to check themselves first, because if you can’t understand me, I can’t understand you.”

Other topics included how to overcome adversity in the workplace, how to educate others on diversity and inclusion, how to inspire change in the way we think about diversity and inclusion, individualism and its importance to personal growth, and the unification to bring members together to create a healthy work environment.

In closing, Godbolt stressed the importance of patience and thinking outside of the organization when seeking change inside of the organization.

“We can’t just wake up and say I want diversity in my organization,” Godbolt said. “This is about really building the pool outside of the organization so that the diverse group you are trying to capture, when they look at the United States Air Force, they say that’s an organization that I want to be a part of, because everybody is held to the same standards and everybody is included in the growth and prosperity of the organization. And I know that things like this are steps in the right direction.”

All Airmen, military and civilian, are responsible for creating an inclusive organizational culture and do so as a reflection of the Air Force’s core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. Airmen at all levels should strive to understand the individual, organizational and operational value of diversity and inclusion, and ensure mutual respect for all.

Air Force leaders, retirees, alumni and friends who are interested in getting involved with outreach and development efforts happening across the country can contact the Air Force Diversity & Inclusion office using the following link: usaf.pentagon.af-a1.mbx.af-a1dv-workflow@mail.mil

For more information on diversity and inclusion efforts across the Air Force, please visit www.af.mil/diversity.