6th Air Refueling Wing talks about pressing, modern subjects in “Lead Conversations"

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Scott Warner
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Whether it is about suicide, diversity and inclusion or just overcoming adversity, MacDill’s 6th Air Refueling Wing leadership team wants to talk about these subjects to create meaningful change.

“Our Air Force leaders obviously recognize the importance of these topics,” said Col. Benjamin Jonsson, the 6th ARW commander. “We need to have these conversations because when we are united and strong together, we are better Airmen and more effective in performing the mission.”

The first “Lead Conversations” episode highlighted diversity and inclusion, and included a sit-down conversation with two people of different racial backgrounds: Jonsson and Master Sgt. Tamika S. Whitfield, a 6th Security Forces flight chief.

“I’m elated that we have started to have these conversations instead of allowing these issues to manifest into bigger problems or having Airmen feel like they have to hide their emotions in a time when they need support,” said Whitfield. “What happens in the world affects us all and just because we don’t see it on the base with a clear view, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or that people are not affected by it.”

MacDill’s leadership team determined that it is important to open these lines of dialogue and create an environment of openness and inclusion for Airman.

“The one thing I can do is I can completely listen, understand and empathize with our Airmen of different backgrounds and their thought processes,” said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Green, the 6th ARW command chief. “I want our Airmen to know that they are no different and just as equal and valuable as any other Airmen that puts this uniform on.”

The issues that minorities face wasn’t just a “one and done” topic at MacDill Air Force Base, and that’s why the premier of the second episode on Oct. 6 with Green and Staff Sgt. Christopher Gamble, a 6th Communication Squadron unit training manager, dove deeper into diversity and inclusion.

Following the second episode, “Lead Conversations” shifts focus as Senior Airman Courtney Carlson, a 6th Dental Squadron dental technician, intends to bring better awareness to the issue of suicide and how it is affects more Airmen every day.

“I never knew anyone who was suicidal up until I met Ryan, and even though I cared about him and wanted to help him battle through his personal demons, I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge or skillset to do that,” said Carlson. “I was trying my best every day to help, but I want one good thing to come out of this horrible situation and that is my story to help someone else who knows a person with suicidal thoughts.”

Carlson lost her husband on Oct. 6, 2018, and since then, she has met with former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and has spoken about her experience on a national level last year at the Air Force Sergeants Association International Convention in San Antonio, TX, in hopes it can help her fellow Airmen.  

Carlson explained that just being involved, aware and talking to someone regardless of what rank someone may be, can be incredibly helpful. When people see someone is acting differently and that something is wrong, Carlson emphasized from her experiences to not shy away from those people.

“We didn’t become the world’s greatest Air Force by setting our issues aside and not helping one another,” said Jonsson “Which is why we need to have these conversations to ensure that our mission goes on unabated and that our most precious commodity, our Airmen, are taken care of.”

While resolving these issues through openly talking about them is certainly one progressive step forward, the 6th ARW plans to do more in the upcoming days and weeks to improve the overall morale and mindset of their Airmen. 

“I hope these conversations spread awareness for compassion and empathy for all personnel, at all levels, regardless of color or rank, and helps bring forth a change that will allow everyone to feel equal and valued,” said Whitfield. “This opportunity allowed me to share with the commander the problems we struggle with day-to-day, and I hope this will drive other leaders to look closer into their units.”