Photo by Nicole Baster

Black Lives Matter in the Military

It shouldn’t be controversial to say such simple words: Black lives matter. If you think this is a political statement, consider what that says about the state of our politics.

For those who say, “All lives matter,” they fail to acknowledge the reason we should say, “Black lives matter.” Our society values white lives. And our military does as well — just look at this photo taken last fall. On the other hand, racial economic inequality and police brutality still plague the Black community.

I lead a company of diverse soldiers, and this week it became clear that our Black soldiers are hurting.

A distraught Black soldier told me, “I’m struggling with this because it doesn’t seem like our leaders care. When COVID-19 hit, it was all they could talk about. And now that something happened that hit the Black community, nothing.”

Although it hurt to hear, I knew there was truth in this statement. But there is no longer any excuse to avoid talking about this tough topic with our formations.

The senior leaders of the Army released a statement on what leaders — at all levels — should do in this moment: “To Army leaders of all ranks, listen to your people, but don’t wait for them to come to you. Go to them. Ask the uncomfortable questions. Lead with compassion and humility, and create an environment in which people feel comfortable expressing grievances.”

We have to support our brothers and sisters and do our best to understand their pain. The best way I know to do this is to talk to them and listen.

I can’t speak to the struggles and challenges of being Black in America or the military. Kaleth Wright, though, can.

Wright, the highest-ranking enlisted member of the Air Force, wrote a powerful thread on Twitter. I recommend reading the full-thread if you have time, but here is an excerpt:

“Who am I? I am a Black man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I am George Floyd…I am Philando Castile, I am Michael Brown, I am Alton Sterling, I am Tamir Rice.

Just like most of the Black Airmen and so many others in our ranks…I am outraged at watching another Black man die on television before our very eyes.

What happens all too often in this country to Black men who are subjected to police brutality that ends in death…could happen to me. As shocking as that may sound to some of you…

I hope you realize that racism/discrimination/exclusion does not care much about position, titles or stature…. so yes, it could happen to you, or one of your friends, or your Airmen, or your NCOIC, your Flight Chief, your Squadron Commander or even your Wing Commander.

This, my friends, is my greatest fear, not that I will be killed by a white police officer (believe me my heart starts racing like most other Black men in America when I see those blue lights behind me)…

But that I will wake up to a report that one of our Black Airmen has died at the hands of a white police officer.

As I struggle with the Air Force’s own demons that include the racial disparities in military justice and discipline among our youngest Black male Airmen and the clear lack of diversity in our senior officer ranks…I can only look in the mirror for the solution.

I, the CMSAF, must do better in ensuring every Airmen in our ranks has a fair chance at becoming the best version of themselves. While this is a complicated issue…I, along with every other leader across the force, am responsible for making sure it becomes a reality.

We didn’t get here overnight so don’t expect things to change tomorrow…we are in this for the long haul. Vote, protest peacefully, reach out to your local and state officials, to your Air Force leadership and become active in your communities… We need all hands on deck.

If you don’t do anything else, I encourage everyone to fight, not just for freedom, justice and equality, but to fight for understanding.

You might think you know what it’s like to grow up, exist, survive & even thrive in this country as a Black person, but let me tell you, regardless of how many Black friends you have, how Black your neighborhood was, or if your spouse or in-laws are Black… You don’t know.

You don’t know the anxiety, the despair, the heartache, the fear, the rage and the disappointment that comes with living in this country, OUR country every single day.

Like you, I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m committed to seeing a better future for this nation. A future where Black men no longer suffer needlessly at the hands of White police officers, & Black Airmen have the same chance to succeed as their White counterparts.

Trust me, I understand this is a difficult topic to talk about…

Difficult…not impossible…

Difficult…but necessary.

Who am I…

I am Kaleth. I am a Black Man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and I am committed to making this better.”

What is your plan to address this seminal moment in history when you go to work this week?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store