by James Spellman, Jr.
Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs
9/24/2015 - LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The
courtyard of the Space and Missile Systems Center's Schriever Space
Complex took on the look of a mini United Nations conference as people
from various ethnicities and races, representing cultural, educational
and geographical heritages, religious faiths and socioeconomic or
political backgrounds came together in unity to celebrate their
Under the theme of "Connecting Cultures," Los Angeles Air Force Base's
annual Diversity Day brought together active-duty service members,
families and civilians to experience slices of culture through open
discussion, dance, music and food to better appreciate the success of
today's Air Force and other branches of military service through the
diversity of its members.
"Here at SMC we have multiple cultures, if you think about it. We have
active duty, we have reserves, we have civilians and we have
federally-funded research and development corporation folks, primarily
Aerospace and the minor corporations. We have SETA (Systems Engineering
and Technical Assistance) and the prime contractors, as well as members
of our sister services and liaisons from our coalition partners," said
Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force Program Executive
Officer for Space, prior to the start of a panel discussion on Leadership in a Diverse Air Force, held in the Gordon Conference Center.
"But even with that diverse set of cultures here at the center, we do
share one mission. And we must be able to understand our differences in
order for us to work together. Our cultures essentially dictate how,
when and even why we do the work that we do," said Greaves. "It's being
able to understand those differences and being able to work with those
differences and similarities that affect our ability to execute toward
mission success, and that's the bottom line. That's why a day like this
is extremely important."
Having grown up in New York City, Greaves related his personal
experience, appreciation and understanding for the positive impact a
diverse workforce yields today.
"We're very privileged to have on hand here at SMC a very, very diverse
workforce here in Southern California -- one of the most diverse,
broader communities within the United States. The Air Force has come
online in a big way to promote the positive benefits of diversity within
the Air Force and, most importantly, adopting a culture of
inclusiveness. Period. Dot. No excuses," said Greaves. "That's our aim
within the United States Air Force, from the Secretary on down: to
create, establish, sustain and promote the environment of inclusiveness.
Any action that precludes that or goes against that will not be
According to Greaves, "Interacting with others from various backgrounds,
cultures, experiences help us all to grow, and I hope that's what you
see at the center. It also allows us to introduce innovative approaches
to situations that we're presented with. It's always good to get away
from group think, and being here in this community at SMC has been a
Greaves' comments were echoed during the panel discussion moderated by
Cordell DeLaPena, director of SMC's Program Management and Integration
Directorate and an SMC champion for diversity.
"We take a moment to embrace and acknowledge the contributions of the
different cultures that make up this country and our military," said
DeLaPena. "We also recognize the future strengths in the evolution of a
more diverse Air Force. The evolution means leaders must understand the
dimensions of diversity and how diversity has shaped and will shape our
understanding of leadership."
Leadership panelist Col. Al Burse, senior materiel leader of the Evolved
Expendable Launch Vehicle Generation and Operations Division of the
Launch Systems Directorate explained diversity succinctly as, "Why I
have one of the best jobs in the Air Force right now, to be launching
national space systems from coast to coast."
"As you can see, I don't sound, I don't look like, and I probably don't
think like many of you here in this audience today," said the Arkansas
native. "But, that doesn't really matter to me. You know what matters?
It's what I bring to the fight for our nation."
Lani Smith, executive director of the Space Superiority Systems
Directorate related her situation as a young Air Force Lieutenant in the
past, when physical differences was how organizations originally
"Wherever I went, I improved the diversity profile, because in a couple
of areas, I'm half Japanese and I'm female. So right there, I was
already bumping up the numbers for the organization that I was
in," Smith said, with a grin.
"Now, I have to say even recently, thirty years later, I'm over 50, I'm
Asian, I'm female and it just so happens I'm married to a woman. So
right there, I'm hitting four big ones. I'll admit though that being a
poster child means I can't be complacent about diversity," Smith pointed
"I can't just strut around and say, 'I'm doing it for SMC; I don't have
to worry about my own actions'. You look across this panel and you see
all of us and we appear to be very different, but we actually have a lot
of similarities because of our military background, because of what we
do. So I would argue we're not necessarily a panel of diversity, but we
have had different experiences with diversity."
Senior Master Sgt. Nancy Gonzales, security forces manager for the 61st
Security Forces Squadron who has deployed six times in support of
operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, pointed
out that as a career cop in one of the largest Air Force Specialty
Codes, it was very much a male-dominated world when she joined 20 years
ago, a decade after women were allowed into that particular AFSC.
"I never felt any different. I never felt like I was treated
differently. And then I realized we're not a tradition unit. We don't
come to work and sit at a desk and not talk to the person that we don't
like next to us," said Gonzales humorously. "We are in vehicles. Two
people at a time, doing a job and you have to be a team. And not only do
you have to be a team doing a job, you have guns...and they are
loaded," Gonzales said as laughter came over the audience. "So you have
to get along. You have to be tolerant with people that are different
John Baldonado, chief of Acquisition Contracts for SMC, related a
similar story from a different perspective. A civilian engineer with no
prior military experience, of Asian-Pacific descent, and a
first-generation immigrant brought up in a traditional household with a
family ethic and cultural traits of being told to work hard to achieve
his goals, Baldonado explained how the environment at SMC was very
different back in the 1990s.
"There weren't any civilian program managers. Mostly it was military.
Also, not too many Asian-Americans program managers were in the area.
They were either in technical fields, or different functional expertise
areas, such as contracts and financial management," said Baldonado.
"Fortunately, I was around a lot of leaders on the base here who saw
something in me. I was unique. I think that was an advantage; you stand
out really well if you're unique," said Baldonado, whose comment drew a
few chuckles from the audience. "Also being different during that time,
it gives you some extra motivation sometimes when you're a little
different, when you're trying to fit in with others and trying to
Baldonado attributes his success to some great leadership and mentors
within SMC who interacted on his behalf and tried to shape his career
progress that taught him a great lesson.
"Being different in the Air Force can be very challenging, but the
awareness of diversity, the awareness of cultures and the awareness of
how those cultures interact and work to get along, eventually fulfills
and strengthens the career fields and leads to success," said Baldonado.
Activities and events included stage and musical performances by Kimloan
Le from the 61st Force Support Squadron on a dan tranh, or Vietnamese
zither and smooth jazz trio, the Lance Reed Band. Food and side dishes
from around the world and cultural booths were staffed by volunteers
representing the African-American Cultural Alliance, American Latino
Awareness Society, Asian-Pacific American Council, Caribbean Islander
Group, and a group of organizations operating under the umbrella of the
Aerospace Diversity Action Committee and Affinity Groups.
Additional community and service organizations from the Abilities Group,
Army and Air Force Exchange Services, Airman and Family Readiness
Center, Chaplain/Lay Organizations, Equal Opportunity, Mental Health,
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and SMC's Opportunities for Women
in Leadership and Service rounded out the roster of participants.
"It was a pleasure working with the Diversity Day Committee. Each member
of the team played a vital role in ensuring this event was a success
and I couldn't have done it without them," said Master Sgt. Robert
Lewis, 61st Medical Squadron patient advocate and NCO in charge of the
Mental Health clinic's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment
program. "We are honored to have the opportunity to showcase and
celebrate the different backgrounds represented here at Los Angeles
Greaves admits, "We're not perfect, but we are ahead of the curve," in
creating an environment that promotes mutual respect and trust while
promoting the development and mentorship of Airmen with different
backgrounds and perspectives so they continue to grow and thrive in the
"I have seen the creativity and innovation that we need and have
demonstrated to become agile and responsive," Greaves said. "I've seen
the respect and professionalism that we've shown and continue to show
each other by being more inclusive, connecting our cultures, learning
from each other and treating each other with the dignity and respect we
all deserve and what the Air Force expects."