Documents obtained by Daily Caller News Foundation show that the U.S. Air Force has abandoned an experiment to boost the graduation rate of women and minorities in pilot training after the 2021 initiative did not achieve the desired results. Officers privately warned the program could violate antidiscrimination policy.
In an effort to increase diversity among pilots, the 19th Air Force Command near San Antonio, Texas “clustered together” racial minority and female trainees in one class. The class was called “America’s Class” to see if this would result in higher graduation rates for pilots. Documents show that the 19th Air Force command near San Antonio, Texas, did not succeed in increasing the success rate of minority and female candidates. Instead, they ordered officers to exclude white males, a practice which could be considered discriminatory.
The actions of the Air Force, whether they were illegal or not, raised red flags to an active-duty instructor pilot who spoke with the DCNF.
The DCNF reported that “when other priorities are introduced, such as gender or race, as a metric for assignment and advancement, performance-based competition is sacrificed, and safety takes a second seat,” said a former Undergraduate Pilot Training instructor and current Air Force instructor, who spoke under condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals.
The DCNF was told that a “significant backlog” in pilot candidates waiting for classes to start offered the 19th Air Force (which conducts pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas) the opportunity to create a new class. The 19th Air Force grouped candidates from “underrepresented” groups into Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training class 21-15 with the intention of roughly reflecting the racial/gender makeup of the U.S.
According to a patch embroidered with “hand-picked for excellence,” Class 21-15 is known as “America’s Class.”
According to the DCNF’s demographic breakdown for classes between 2020 and 2023, at least 62% of students in that class were from underrepresented groups. In this calculation, the DCNF excluded males who selected “other”, which includes those who refused to specify their ethnicity.
The document states that all other classes for 2020-2021 will have a minimum of one third underrepresented groups.
According to a DCNF memo, officers who were ordered to take part in the creation class 21-15 had expressed concern that the selection criteria could be considered unlawful discrimination.
The 2020 memo, signed by two 19th Air Force Officers whose names have been redacted, states that “we were verbally instructed through the chain-of-command by the 19AF/CC (19th Air Force Commander) to purposefully restructure students assigned to class 21-15 [SUPT] in order to meet specific racial demographics and gender demographics.”
According to the memo, the 19th Air Force originally intended for the class’s composition to be similar to that of the U.S. general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. This was also the intention expressed by the AETC representative who spoke to DCNF about the class. The memo stated that base officials realized by fall 2020 that the demographics of the new cohort would not allow for such an arrangement. Therefore, the order was amended to exclude specific groups from the class.
The officers stated that on August 10, “the order was changed verbally by the 47 OG/CC in order to restructure class with ‘anyone non-white’.”
According to a memo, classes were previously arranged based on the number of month a student spent in his or her unit.
According to a memo, an individual raised concerns regarding the legality of the order to the equal opportunity office at the base in August 2020. However, he was informed that the class restructuring was not illegal. The unnamed person was also asked to write a memo documenting his complaint, in case it came under investigation.
The two officers who signed this memo, however, claimed that base commanders were violating the Air Force non-discrimination policies, which define illegal discrimination as any unlawful action that denies equality of opportunity to persons or group based on race, color (including sexual harassment), sex, national origin, religion or sexual orientation.
The officers wrote: “No one signed below agrees with the order in an ethical sense.” The officers wrote: “SUPT class structure has never been based upon a minimum quota based on race or gender of a student, and this message is harmful to current and future students.”
The officers pledged, however, to obey any lawful orders given until further investigation revealed that they were illegal.
One of the authors of the article, a captain pilot and instructor for the SUPT class, spoke to the DCNF under the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive issues.
Air Force Times reported that following George Floyd’s death, the Air Force increased its efforts to improve diversity within the ranks by 2020. DOD found a greater lack of diversity in terms of race and gender among “rated” officers like pilots who are promoted most often to the top leadership positions.
According to AETC website, AETC was the leader in diversity initiatives for rated career fields by 2020.
On March 17, 2021 AETC, along with the top officials of the service, released a strategy that aims to improve metrics for gender and racial equality in rated career. The strategy calls on data-driven approaches in order to “develop and maintain the Air Force’s highest rated aircrew through harnessing diversity as force multiplier and cultivating a culture for inclusion.”
The AETC strategy forbids using numerical racial quotas in recruitment and promotion, or to use race, religion or sexual orientation to determine admission into any training program. It does allow, however, addressing the “barriers and hinderances to cohesion between students and instructors” and “removing rated minorities and female aircrew retention and integration barriers.”
The Air Force’s strategy to diversify ranks is reflected in the rated strategy document. Published as SUPT class 21, 15 at its mid-point, it’s indicative of a broader strategy.
According to a press release from AETC, the “clustered class” will graduate on September 10, 2021. According to photos in the release, 22 of the 29 students who started the class finished it. According to press releases, the previous class graduated 23 of 26 students on August 20 and the following class finished with only 17 of 30 students on October 1.
The DCNF was told by an AETC representative that the initial results and feedback from students were “inconclusive”. Minority students didn’t progress faster than previous classes and “not every student saw clustering as beneficial.”
The spokesperson for AETC told DCNF that while clustering is not entirely discarded, “no more clustering activities are currently planned,” pointing to changes in the curriculum which allow students to advance at their own pace rather than being grouped together.
The spokesperson stated that “AETC acknowledges the potential for clustering to have an impact on UPT graduation rate, but this potential has not been proven in the current UPT environment.” “AETC will seek to develop an environment of dignity and respect both for students and instructors through innovative and legal ways.”