Diversity matters

Lt. Col. Nathan Clemmer is the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. Nathan Clemmer is the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Sometimes I recount stories about where I grew up, on a mile-long dirt road that was up hill both ways. People usually laugh. Then I continue about how I only had wood heat, spring fed water and a rotary phone with a party line (the older generation out there should remember that one). My unique and monolithic cultural experience, if left without opportunities provided by my parents, teachers and the Air Force, could have left me with a narrow and biased outlook toward people. To demonstrate this experience, I remember a funny story about my first week at kindergarten. One of my classmates, who became a good friend of mine, went home to her parents and said there was a "little black boy in her class." Now, I do have some American Indian genetic influences, and it was late August after a long summer in the sun, but the comment speaks to the monolithic "white" cultural experience I was raised in. There was no ethnic or cultural diversity in my home town.

The U.S. military, at least during my career, has always received high approval ratings.  One of the reasons for this has to do with the military being a reflection of society, a reflection of a "melting pot" nation.  All Americans can see a reflection of themselves in the military. The U.S. military is not a praetorian guard for our civilian leaders. Consider for a minute, if our military was made up of all white men from Peoria, Illinois, would the institution be held in such high regard? It is critical that each American sees a part of themselves in the military, the institution charged to protect them from all enemies foreign and domestic, no matter their race, religion, sex, orientation, traditions or where they came from.

Our Air Force leadership recognizes the value and importance of diversity.  In Air Force Policy Directive 36-70, diversity is broadly defined as a composite of individual characteristics, experiences and abilities consistent with the Air Force Core Values and the Air Force Mission. There is even a website dedicated to diversity in the Air Force, http://www.af.mil/Diversity.aspx.
Gen. Mark A. Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, said, "The greatest strength of our Airmen is their diversity! Each of them comes from a different background, a different family experience and a different social experience. Each brings a different set of skills and a unique perspective to the team. We don't just celebrate diversity...we embrace it!" I would even go a step further and argue diversity also maintains our credibility with the American public and allies around the world.

I, like many in the military, may have been raised in an area of the country that lacked diversity, but I quickly learned how valuable a diverse population is when I joined the most powerful and diverse military in the world. Being a "melting pot" nation with a military that reflects diversity is a powerful tool as we engage allies and enemies around the world. I am proud of that one little, often unappreciated, characteristic that makes our military and country so exceptional.