US Air Force Ran a Social Experiment to Graduate More Minority Pilots. It Didn’t Go as Planned
Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller, May 8, 2023
The U.S. Air Force abandoned an experiment aimed at boosting pilot training graduation rates for women and minority pilots after the 2021 initiative failed to achieve the intended results and officers privately warned it could violate anti-discrimination policies, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
As part of the larger military-wide effort to promote diversity in the service’s pilot ranks, the 19th Air Force command near San Antonio, Texas, “clustered” racial minorities and female trainees into one class, dubbed “America’s Class,” to find out if doing so would improve the pilots’ graduation rates. However, not only did the effort fail to boost minority and women candidates’ success rates, but officers involved say they were ordered to engage in potentially unlawful discrimination by excluding white males from the class, documents show.
A “significant backlog” of pilot candidates waiting to begin classes offered the 19th Air Force, which conducts pilot training for the entire service at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, a chance to build a class from scratch, a spokesperson for Air Education and Training Command (AETC) told the DCNF. So, the 19th Air Force “clustered” candidates from “underrepresented groups” into Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) class 21-15, with the initial intent of roughly mirroring the racial and gender makeup of the U.S.
The class ended up being comprised of at least 62% underrepresented groups, according to a demographic breakdown of classes from 2020 to 2023 obtained by the DCNF. The DCNF did not include males who chose the “other” option, which includes those who declined to specify their ethnicity, in that calculation.
All other classes for 2020 and 2021 are comprised of one-third or less underrepresented groups, the document shows.
Officers ordered to participate in the creation of class 21-15 expressed concerns that selection criteria amounted to unlawful discrimination, according to a memo obtained by the DCNF.
“We have been verbally ordered through the chain of command by the 19AF/CC [19th Air Force commander] to purposefully restructure the students assigned to [SUPT] class 21-15 to meet specific racial and gender demographics,” reads the 2020 memo signed by two 19th Air Force officers whose names were redacted.
The 19th Air Force initially intended the class to include roughly the same race, ethnicity and gender proportions as in the broader U.S. population, according to the memo, echoing the AETC spokesperson who explained the class to the DCNF. However, as of fall 2020, base officials realized the demographics of the incoming cohort would prevent such an arrangement, and so the order was changed to exclude certain groups from the incoming class, the memo said.
“The order was changed by verbal order of the 47 OG/CC to restructure the class with ‘anybody non-white,’” on Aug. 10, the officers wrote.
One individual brought concerns about the order’s legality to the base’s equal opportunity office in August 2020, but he was told the class restructuring itself was not illegal, according to the memo. The equal opportunity office also instructed the unnamed individual to draft a memo documenting the complaint in case the situation came under investigation in the future.
However, the two officers who signed the memo argued base commanders violated the Air Force’s non-discrimination policy, which defines illegal discrimination as “any unlawful action that denies equal opportunity to persons or groups based on their race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.”