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Working towards a diverse future

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joseph Garcia
  • 509th Bomb Wing

A diverse work force can bring together people with different backgrounds and perspectives, who bring new and different ideas to the table, to achieve a singular mission.

That’s why the U.S. Air Force is actively trying to increase diversity across its force.

One area where the Air Force is currently lacking in diversity is in the piloting corps. According to the Air Force Personnel Center, in 2023 79% of all Air Force pilots were white and male.

That is an improvement over what it was 20 years ago however when the number of pilots who were white males was 89%.

“When I got into the Air Force as a weapons loader on the flightline, I saw black pilots were very few and far between,” said Maj. Alfred Agee, 393rd Bomb Squadron assistant director of operations, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. 

Black Airmen, who make up 15% of the active-duty Air Force, are more represented than in the general population where 12.4% of people are Black, however, they are disproportionately enlisted as opposed to being officers.

One way the Air Force has increased diversity is to tap into its existing talent pool and give enlisted members more opportunities to commission and become pilots.

That is the path that Agee took to becoming a pilot. Staff Sgt. Raphael Edwin, 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron commander support staff non-commissioned officer in charge, is another Airman about to embark on that journey.

Edwin was recently selected to commission into the Air National Guard and become a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber pilot with the 131st Bomb Wing Missouri Air National Guard.

“It still feels like a dream to get to be sent to pilot training and fly such a prestigious aircraft,” said Edwin.

Agee and Edwin both believe that the lack of diversity makes it hard for young Black people to see themselves as future Air Force pilots. For Agee, the few that he did see helped inspire him to chase that goal.

“That was a beacon of hope, like ‘There’s a guy that looks like me that’s doing it,’” Agee said.

Edwin hopes he can be that same beacon of hope for others.

“When I cross over to be an officer, I can transition my focus on making things better on that side of the Air Force,” he said.

They agreed that having more Black pilots now will inspire future generations, leading to continued advances in diversity.

Agee saw the power of that kind of representation in action when he was part of the ground crew for a B-2 flyover at the Tournament of Roses

“I can’t express how awesome it was meeting individuals of all ages and races saying, ‘I didn't realize they let you fly that plane,’" said Agee. “Regardless of what you look like, male, female, minority, majority, having somebody put a face to what others want to do can push someone over the edge and say, ‘I’m going to do it cause it’s possible.’”

The push to inspire people of all backgrounds is right in line with the Air Force’s renewed focus on increasing diversity and inclusion that began under Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, while he was still Air Force Chief of Staff, said Agee.

Agee and Edwin both have high hopes for the future of the Air Force pilot corps.

"I feel that we're going in the right direction, we just need to make sure we're being more tactful and innovative in reaching out to those communities so they have the right knowledge and exposure," said Edwin.

Tapping into the talents and abilities of a more diverse Air Force opens up new possibilities, enhancing Whiteman AFB's mission to deliver global strike capabilities… anytime, anywhere.