It’s a Sequel
This book is a sequel to “The Air Force’s Black Ceiling” which is available on both Amazon and Audible. It will be difficult to gain the full benefit of this book without reading its predecessor.
In “The Air Force’s Black Ceiling” I showed how the Air Force’s most senior leadership positions, it’s four-star commanders of flying forces and its Chief of Staff, have been filled by flying officers, namely fighter pilots, since the late 1970s. I showed how DoD and Congressional leaders intentionally set out to ensure that fighter pilot general officers would dominate the senior leadership landscape. Since 1986 only one Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF) has not been a fighter pilot.
With that foundation settled I showed how a person who enters the Air Force and does not become a fighter pilot, has a dramatically decreased chance of making four-star rank and virtually no chance of becoming the Air Force Chief of Staff. I then went on to show that African Americans are far less likely to become fighter pilots and therefore far less likely to achieve four-star rank.
I detailed in “Black Ceiling” that though there had been eight black four-star generals, this painted a distorted view of the Air Force’s diversity success. At that time the Air Force had promoted 208 people to four-star rank. Of the eight black four-stars, two had been Air Force Materiel Command Commanders; two had been Air Education Command Commanders, one had been Air Mobility Command & TRANSCOM Commander, one the Vice Chief of Staff, one was General Daniel “Chappie” James, former NORAD Commander. Last but certainly not least, was General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who was retroactively promoted to four-star rank at 86 years of age. (USAF Biographies, 2002)
No black four-star has ever commanded the Air Force’s premiere warfighting commands: TAC/ACC, SAC, USAFE, or PACAF (see acronym legend). Though Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown has recently been nominated to command PACAF. Until General Edward Rice, in 2008, in PACAF, no black three-star had ever been in command of flying forces in these commands either. (USAF Biographies, 2013) I went on to suggest a new definition for diversity in the Air Force: Air Force Diversity = fighter pilot diversity + general officer fighter pilot diversity + four-star fighter pilot diversity in key warfighting commands (ACC, USAFE, PACAF and Chief of Staff). I elaborate on these points further in the mini case study chapter on Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown.
With the backdrop of a new definition of diversity for the Air Force, I went into great detail on the historical differences in development afforded to non-minority officer fighter pilots and suggested that with the same developmental opportunities, mentoring and top cover that black pilots could achieve the same success.
I later went on in “Black Ceiling” to highlight what I believed were hidden lessons within the success of the Tuskegee Airmen, that if replicated, could prove successful in efforts not only to increase the number of black fighter pilots but to develop them for successful careers.
The Air Force’s Black Pilot Training experience is a natural follow-on to “Black Ceiling.” Black Ceiling’s essential premise was that if you don’t fix the problems with creating black fighter pilots, you will never significantly impact the diversity landscape at the uppermost echelons of the Air Force.
The shortage of black pilots is not a pipeline issue. Successfully recruiting more “high-caliber” black college educated minorities and putting them into pilot training is not the fix. We must fix the pipe, clean it of obstructions, before we feed more students into it. Failure to do so breathes life into the myth that the caliber of student is the problem versus the educational and cultural constructs that we are putting the students into.
This book focuses on the experiences of black men and women in Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT). This book brings to the surface the problems in the conduct and constructs of SUPT that negatively impact the success of black student pilots.
For so long there has been a smokescreen, a feigning of the real problem. Contrary to popular belief the greatest problem is not the academic caliber of the black student in SUPT. The greatest problem is that the Air Force has refused to acknowledge, during its 70-year plus existence, that its one-size-fits-all approach to the conduct and culture of SUPT is detrimental, hindering at best, for most minority students.
This book will zero in on the counterproductive culture of SUPT as it pertains to minorities. It will prove the current SUPT construct and conduct is counterproductive for the majority of black students. The proof will come through research that has been available to the Air Force for decades and through the experiences of students from the 1960s to the present.
The research and the experiences (captured via survey and interview) will make one thing clear: that the Air Force must make significant changes to the conduct of SUPT. If the Air Force wants to increase the number of black pilots and as a byproduct indirectly increase the number of black pilots in its most senior leadership ranks, it must admit and break down its resistance to changing a SUPT culture that eats members of its own.
In “Black Ceiling” I showed that the Air Force has successfully experimented with the cultural and structural changes to SUPT that I am alluding to. In this book, I will call attention to these experiments and other similar events. I hope that this increased attention will help end the Air Force’s reluctance to make changes that would have minimal impact on the majority culture but likely have wide-ranging and significant impacts on the success of black pilots in SUPT.
This book is one that every black student who is considering becoming a pilot should read. This is a book that every non-minority pilot involved in training minority students, managing flying training operations, commanding flying training Wings and even the Commander of Air Education and Training Command should read. This is a book that every non-minority pilot who has ever entertained the questions, why aren’t black pilots as successful in SUPT or why we don’t have more black pilots, should read. This is a book that I hope even the Air Force Chief of Staff will read.
The Air Force is a great place to work and truly a great way of life. In all its greatness, however, it has room to improve. The poor success of black students in SUPT is an unnecessary blemish on the great institution that is the United States Air Force. It is an unnecessary blemish because many of the needed changes in SUPT are within the Air Force’s power to control and have been experimented with successfully by the Air Force in the past. As hard as it is to say, this blemish still exists because it thrives in the blind spot of the predominantly non-minority senior Air Force leadership.
My challenge in this book is to turn the floodlights on this blind spot within the Air Force’s senior leadership. My challenge is to communicate cross-culturally. To try to show how black people who, in general terms, grew up in one culture, are then forced to try to learn and thrive in a culture that is so foreign to some of its students that the different culture becomes more formidable and even adversarial than it should be.
I hope to successfully communicate to the Air Force’s senior leadership that SUPT has been historically and unequivocally harmful to its black and likely other minority student pilots. The measure of success for this attempt at cross-cultural communication will be found in changes to a negative SUPT culture and construct that has been kept alive in a blind spot, virtually unchanged for seven decades.
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