When a comment Is not a comment – the impact of disparaging terms

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- What has made the United States Air Force the most dominant Air Force in the world for the past 61 years? While we have the most advanced and sophisticated air and space technology, awesome weapons, state of the art command and control, it is the members of the Air Force, military, civilians and family members, that are our most important ingredient. 

We cannot accomplish or maintain our noble status as the best Air Force in the world if we neglect taking care of our people. This duty is not only delegated to our leaders, but is a responsibility for all of us regardless of rank, military or civilian, title, position or specialty code. 

However, one disparaging term based on a member's race, color, gender, religion, ethnicity, age or mental/physical disabilities tarnishes the AF reputation. What is the outcome from one "harmless or joking statement?" The result is losing the confidence, respect and most importantly, the cohesion for all AF members. 

During the Equal Opportunity Unit Climate Assessment, Team Whiteman members viewed their immediate and squadron work environment as a healthy organization with little tolerance for comments or stories based on protected categories along with sexual harassment. 

If you allow negative comments or actions without challenging the individual, then you are authorizing the behavior using the principle that "Silence is consent." Each of us needs to insure we will enforce this standard without being a silent spectator. 

Communications allows us to share our ideas, beliefs and personal stories with each other. It is precious gift worth protecting. When our conversations are laced with stereotypes, vulgarities, insults and hatred, ask yourself what is being achieved? Our working and social relationships strengthen the warrior bond between all of us and support the mission during conflict and peacetime. 

Freedom of speech is a part of the U.S. Constitution and everyone is entitled to their opinion, however, derogatory comments directed towards an individual are inappropriate and unprofessional. Derogatory comments of this nature destroy the essence of esprit de corps' and have an effect on our global Air Force mission. 

Hateful or sexually charged language often violates Air Force instructions and can lead to disciplinary measures. Additionally, for those in uniform, inappropriate language can be a violation of the Unifrom Code of Military Justice. 

For example, the UCMJ states that anyone who uses contemptuous words against senior civilian leadership such as the President, the Vice President, members of Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation or the Governor or legislature of any state is subject to punishment up to and including court-martial. Members of the military get to voice that opinion with their vote. Once the elections are over, it is a requirement of oath to support the civilian leadership; regardless of party affiliation or personal background. 

We are all wingmen and we live by the Airman's Creed. As Lt. Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski stated, "The wingman is absolutely indispensable. I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me. It's another set of eyes protecting you. That is the defensive part. Offensively, it gives you a lot more firepower. We work together. We fight together. The wingman knows what his responsibilities are and knows what mine are. Wars are not won by individuals. They're won by teams." 

In the 509th Bomb Wing, we treat everyone with dignity and respect. We do it because it is the right thing to do. This is the foundation of what makes Team Whiteman an amazing organization and community. To stay strong, everyone needs to take a stance to address any disparaging remarks despite the consequences of whom they are directed towards.