Posted on May 5, 2015

Air Force Leadership Lacks Diversity

Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today, May 3, 2015

The senior leadership of the Air Force remains largely white and male despite an emphasis on diversity in the service and throughout the military, according to data and interviews with service leaders.

The Air Force has 280 generals, but just 18 of them belong to minority groups. That includes two Hispanic officers, or less than 1% of the total. The 13 African-American generals make up 4% of the Air Force’s general officer corps.

The Pentagon’s other branches, including the Army, share the same struggle to diversify their forces, a priority of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. A key concern for the Army resides in the lack of minority officers leading its combat battalions and brigades. That’s where lieutenant colonels and colonels are groomed for top leadership jobs, indicating the lack of diversity among combat leaders could persist for years.

The Air Force has a similar problem among its wing commanders. Commanding a wing is considered by the Air Force to being a near-prerequisite to becoming a general. Of the 135 wings, there are four black officers in charge, according to Air Force data, or less than 3%. In all, the current class of wing commanders is 93% white and 91% male.

Air Force Secretary Deborah James, in a statement to USA TODAY, acknowledged the problem.

“We value diversity,” James said. “However, the statistics tell a different story. As a service we need to do better at achieving greater diversity of thought and experiences in leadership positions.”

The Air Force, with few exceptions, traditionally has drawn its top leaders from combat pilots, especially those who fly fighter jets. Its chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, is an F-16 and A-10 pilot. Gen. Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied commander in Europe and leader of European Command, is also an F-16 pilot.


The Air Force’s 9,000 combat pilots are at least 87% white. More officers declined to identify their race, 5%, than the next highest minority group, African Americans, at 3%. Nearly 94% are men. The military, as a whole, is dominated by men at 85% of its personnel.


“Diversity and inclusion are national security imperatives,” Cleaves [Chevalier Cleaves, the Air Force director of diversity and inclusion] said. “So we must succeed. There is no second place for us. In order to do that, we need to make sure that we leverage the talent of all Americans, not just some.”