Air Force Surgeon General sees diversity, inclusion as vital to mission readiness (Part 3) Published July 26, 2022 By Shireen Bedi Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- 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.” NC Air Guardsman brings diverse background to Bagram’s AE mission U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Russell “Rusty” McLamb, right, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron technician deployed from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 156th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, assists with the loading of an injured Service member on a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on the flight line at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 8, 2015, prior to an aeromedical evacuation mission to Germany. McLamb is part of the 455th EAES, which is responsible for evacuating the sick and wounded from Central Command to higher echelons of medical care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tony Wickman/Released) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res 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. Close Shave is better than a close call Staff Sgt. Antoine, 13th Intelligence Squadron intelligence analyst, raises his head as Lt. Col. David Gregory, 9th Medical Group flight surgeon chief of medical staff, inspects his neck and face during a shaving waiver course at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., March 15, 2018. The most common reason Airmen request shaving waivers is due to pseudo folliculitis barbae, which is also known as shaving bumps or ingrown hairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Colville McFee) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res 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.” Behind the Braids: Reservists play key role in first women’s hair policy change in 70 years As an outcome of the 101st Air Force uniform board, Air Force women will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades. In addition, women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows, but not cover their eyes. These new changes will be effective upon publication of the new standards in Air Force Instruction 36-2903 Feb. 10. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Jaimee Freeman) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res “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.