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Indigenous Nations Equality Team: Breaking barriers for a better future

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren Cobin
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Two Airmen assigned to the 6th Air Refueling Wing made history as the first group of indigenous people to be invited to speak at the Pentagon as part of the Indigenous Nations Equality Team Nov. 30, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anastacia Rodriguez, a 6th Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion craftsman, and Staff Sgt. Rochelle James, a 6th Security Forces Squadron unit training manager, took a stand as members of the Navajo Nation to advocate for progressive changes to be made to Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903, dress and appearance standards.

For Rodriguez, having the opportunity to advocate for these AFI changes with Air Force senior leaders was the ultimate way to pay respect to members of her tribe who have served before.

These tentative AFI changes include enhancing Native American male hair standards allowing for longer hair styles to align with female regulations, lowering the approval authority necessary for traditional attire to be worn during military ceremonies and granting permissive temporary duty for cultural ceremonies and more.

James explained that having the opportunity to advocate for future generations of Native Americans was a truly rewarding experience.

“I would just think about how big the Air Force is and the potential of what Native Americans can have in the future,” James said. “With these potential changes, Native Americans can be more attached to their home.”

Since being at MacDill, Rodriguez and James have found a community of other Indigenous people through INET which is comprised of Airmen and officers stationed around the world.

The Air Force has put a large emphasis on diversity and inclusion to help bring attention to the minority voice and the value of cultural experiences.

Serving as a resource group for the indigenous nation’s community, INET reviews and analyzes guidelines, programs, data, and other information which stand as barriers to employment, advancement and retention of American Indian, Native American, Alaska Native employees and military members.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center Active Duty demographic report from September 2021, members who self-reported as American Indian or Native Alaskan make up .08% of the Air Force.

“(Joining the military) was a choice we each made on our own,” said James. “Our parents accepted it, now they are proud of us and what we are doing.”

Airmen and Guardians who are a part of the indigenous nation’s community play a large role in actively eliminating barriers for a better future.

“It is so important that we start asking questions to challenge the norm,” said Kishima Garcia, chief diversity and inclusion officer assigned to the 6th Air Refueling Wing. “Your position in the Air Force is more than service to your country, it is service to your fellow Airmen. Rodriguez and James are leading the way to open the discussion for many of our Airmen at MacDill Air Force Base.”

The contributions Rodriguez and James continue to make to the Indigenous Nations community embody the Air Force’s priority of strength through diversity and will impact the MacDill community for years to come.