Air Force Surgeon General sees diversity, inclusion as vital to mission readiness (Part 3)

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, is maximizing human capital and developing Airmen and Guardians by addressing inequity and incorporating diversity and inclusion in policies, allowing all service members a chance to succeed.

“Airmen and Guardians are our most important resource and we need to make sure every member has an opportunity to excel in their career,” said Miller. “My intent is to remove obstacles that impede equality.”

In 2020, the AFMS stood up its Office of Diversity and Inclusion to identify barriers impacting underrepresented Airmen and Guardians while also educating medics on diversity, inclusion and belonging.

“We know the AFMS is stronger when everyone belongs and has a seat at the table when making decisions,” said Lt. Col. Mikel Merritt, Chief, AFMS Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “We want to cultivate a culture where everyone is welcomed and valued, identify and breakdown barriers, and educate medics.”

Diversity and inclusion positively effects delivering care to Airmen and Guardians, said Master Sgt. Miranda Krill, Senior Enlisted Leader, AFMS Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“When we talk about diversity, it is more than just race, ethnicity and gender,” said Krill. “It also means making sure we have enlisted, officer and civilian representation in the room to make sure we’re not missing second or third-order effects when it comes to the decisions senior leaders make. When our medical teams are more diverse, we come up with better ideas and solutions. We aim to create an environment that enables everyone to contribute.”

The office has barrier analysis teams researching existing health-related policies that could potentially cause unnecessary delays in meeting readiness requirements, or negatively impact a promotion or advancement. The most recent outcome has been changes to the shaving waiver policy.

“We changed from a one-year shaving waiver to a five-year waiver, which was helpful to our members diagnosed with pseudo folliculitis barbae, or PFB,” said Merritt. “Members with PFB risk secondary infection and excessive scarring. The change to five years allows more time for the skin to heal and prevent PFB from occurring again.”

The change in policy also allows members to recover without the requirement of an annual visit to renew their waiver. This improves readiness while reducing administrative burden.

Additionally, the Diversity and Inclusion Office is working on distributing information, regulations and guidelines on how to promote a more inclusive culture at military treatment facilities. They are also looking at standardizing diversity and inclusion training that is incorporated into all AFMS senior leader courses.

“Diversity and inclusion is not a box to be checked and it is not going away,” said Merritt. “If we want to be an organization that people want to join and stay in, then we have to ensure recognition that every member is a critical part of our Air Force and Space Force. If we take care of our people, we will take care of our mission. Diversity and inclusion efforts are inevitably linked to our readiness.”

With women making up 21% of the Air Force and Space Force’s active duty populations, the Department of the Air Force stood up its Women’s Initiative Team, focusing on issues affecting women, from joining and staying in the military, to identifying policy that could impact their service.

“All roles in the Air Force and Space force are open to women. As part of the WIT, we look at what we can do to ensure nothing gets in the way of their ability to do their jobs and succeed in the military,” said Maj. Megan Biles, co-chair for the Department of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team. “We examine policies that were written 20 or even 50 years ago, but may not apply today.”

In the past two years, the WIT’s Female-Specialized Health Care Programs has provided updates to hair policies that originally caused headaches and hair loss, improved lactation support for nursing mothers, and standardized convalescent leave after pregnancy loss.

“We have made some significant changes when it comes to members who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant,” said Biles. “We want to let women know that no matter what their family planning decisions are, they can still successfully serve and progress in their military careers. We are opening up that aperture to create opportunities and pathways for our members to continue serving, which ultimately makes our Air Force and Space Force stronger.”

For Miller, diversity and inclusion efforts and policies that break down barriers are necessary to modernize the Air Force Medical Service and ensure it retains the best people.

“We have to start early,” said Miller. “I think it is great we are having open discussions and policy modifications are happening, but we need to accelerate change to actively make a difference, build opportunities, and ensure every Airman and Guardian feels valued. We have to build this into our culture now and at every level of our AFMS.”

Editor’s Note: This article is part three of a three part series highlighting Lt. Gen. Robert Miller’s priorities for the future of the Air Force Medical Service.