A diverse rated force is a strategic imperative to inspire, retain and develop future Air Force leaders.
From increasing awareness about rated officer careers to removing barriers for qualification, Air Education and Training Command’s Rated Diversity Improvement Strategy Team is making significant strides to remove barriers that impede the service’s ability to cultivate a diverse rated force.
The draft AETC RDI strategy is a focused, long-term effort to attract, recruit, develop and retain a diverse rated leadership corps through deliberate efforts to raise awareness about aviation career opportunities, developing strategic partnerships, removing potential barriers to service and mentoring current aviators.
“Ultimately, our goal is to attract, recruit and retain the most qualified people from diverse backgrounds in order to cultivate a high performing and innovative Air Force that is reflective of our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt, AETC director of operations and communications, and AETC’s RDI Strategy Team lead. “A diverse force of unique strengths, perspectives and experiences strengthens our Air Force and helps maintain its competitive advantage.”
With its overarching goal being to strengthen diversity across rated career fields, the RDI Strategy Team also aims to field an innovative environment within which a diverse force of Airmen can effectively solve tomorrow’s challenges and provide combat air lethality with agility and resolve.
“A force comprised of Airmen of various backgrounds inherently brings out new and innovative ideas, which is vitally important to the Air Force mission,” Leavitt said. “The convergence of our Airmen’s unique skills, abilities and knowledge is the only way we can solve tomorrow’s complex problems.”
Air Force officials have recently facilitated sweeping policy changes to foster an environment where this convergence is not only possible, but reinforced.
These policy changes include updating anthropometric guidance, eliminating height-requirement waivers and reducing restrictions on pregnant Airmen who perform flight duties.
Updated anthropometric guidance
As part of the Air Force’s on-going effort to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants to pursue careers in aviation, the Department of the Air Force issued a new guidance memorandum Aug. 4 that implements the usage of current population body-size data when defining design specifications for aircrew flight equipment and operator stations.
Air Force Guidance Memorandum 2020-63-148 establishes that all program managers use current U.S. recruiting population body size data when defining aircraft design specifications.
Previously, design specifications were based on a 1967-male-pilot survey that disqualified 44% of U.S. women within the recruitment population – including 74% of African Americans, 72% of Latino Americans and 61% of Asian Americans.
“Barriers will always exist in some form,” said Lt. Col. Cathyrine Armandie, AETC chief of rated diversity. “However, as we constantly review our policies to ensure they are inclusive of all and employ meaningful measurements of success, we will continue to make progress in minimizing barriers within the Air Force, and build future leaders who are reflective of our diverse population.”
Eliminated initial height requirements
The minimum height requirement for officer applicants who seek careers in rated fields was also removed to prevent self-disqualification, and foster a larger, more diverse pool of potential aviators.
While still preserving safety of flight, the policy adjustment no longer requires applicants who did not meet previous height requirements to acquire an accessions waiver. Instead, pilot candidates will now be specifically screened for eligibility by AETC officials only to validate their ability to safely operate the controls of operational aircraft.
Under the previous Medical Standards Directory requirement, the height requirement to apply for a career in Air Force aviation was a standing height of 64 inches to 77 inches, or 5’4″ to 6’5″, and a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches. Although most height waivers were approved, the previous restriction eliminated approximately 44% of the U.S. female population between the ages 20 to 29.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services Anthropometric Reference Data for Adults, United States, 2007-2010, the average height for U.S. women aged 20 and over is 63.8 inches across all ethnic groups. In contrast, the average height for U.S. men aged 20 and over is 69.3 inches across all ethnic groups.
“Despite the Air Force’s deliberate efforts to recruit underrepresented groups, a significant portion of them would have been systematically discriminated (against) and disqualified unless this policy changed,” Leavitt said. “These kinds of fundamental and institutional changes will continue to accelerate us forward.”
Removed barriers for pregnant Airmen
Additionally, the Air Force recently updated a policy to reduce restrictions on pregnant women who perform flight duties.
Remotely piloted aircrew, missile operations duty crews and certain fully qualified pilots are now authorized to perform their assigned duties during pregnancy without a medical waiver.
“Women are vastly underrepresented in Air Force aviation,” Armandie said. “This change helps us achieve our goal of minimizing barriers for female Airmen that degrade their quality of service and prevent them from pursuing long-term careers in rated fields.”
Female aviators now have the choice to keep performing flight duties during pregnancy, maintain currency and prevent required postpartum re-qualification training.
Airmen will also not be required to fly while pregnant, even those with pregnancies deemed uncomplicated by medical professionals. Nevertheless, Airmen with medically confirmed uncomplicated pregnancies who chose to fly may change their minds at any time.
In addition to supporting the Air Force’s on-going efforts to facilitate sweeping policy changes that are inclusive of all, the RDI Strategy Team also seeks innovative ways to restore the luster of aviation among youth and influencers, Armandie said.
“We are making monumental changes to programs and creating opportunities for youth and their influencers to learn more about aviation opportunities,” Armandie added. “Additionally, we’re providing our current Airmen interested in rated positions the opportunity to enhance their competitiveness for a rated slot through programs like the Rated Prep Program.”
Rated Prep Program
The Rated Prep Program, in partnership with Civil Air Patrol, provides invaluable flight training and mentorship to non-rated Air Force officers who plan to participate in the Undergraduate Flying Training Selection Board.
The program not only helps improve Airmen’s Air Force Officer Qualifying Test scores but helps make underrepresented groups of Airmen more competitive for the UFT board, according to Armandie. In fact, 42 of the 52 program students applied for the UFT, and 37 were selected – 30% being from underrepresented groups.
“These policy changes and rated career programs illustrate that we are fundamentally changing the way we think about diversity in our Air Force,” Leavitt said. “While diversity as a warfighting imperative is part of advancing force development within AETC’s priorities, the RDI Strategy Team aims to instill diversity and inclusion as a foundational competency that is applied across all of the command’s priorities.”
Although the task force has facilitated significant policies that underpin a diverse rated force, Leavitt believes continued success of the RDI mission requires a long-term commitment and fundamental change within the Air Force culture.
“The AETC team is working diligently to make RDI a part of our fabric,” Leavitt said. “Our success lies within changing the culture and adopting diversity and inclusion as a core competency at all levels of the Air Force. That is how we will continue to facilitate change and harness future generations of diverse talent.”
Rated career fields in the Air Force consist of pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft, air battle managers and combat systems officers.