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Air Force chaplains say bias pervades the corps

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Air Force’s chaplain corps is riven by racial, sex and religious discrimination, according to a survey of its members, who expressed little confidence in their senior officers.

“Respondents provided a clear and consistent message that distrust and disharmony is prevalent among the members of the U.S. Air Force chaplain service,” states an Air Force-funded study. “Racial, gender and religious discrimination exists within the chaplain service, now more subtly than overtly.”

The survey found that black and female chaplains are under-represented in promotions, while evangelicals believe top jobs go to “mainline” religions. Catholics said that because of their single status “they receive inordinate amounts of remote and short tour assignments where assignment of chaplains with families would create hardships.”

There also were charges of reverse discrimination, with respondents saying Catholics, women and blacks “receive preference for key opportunities and assignments.”

The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael Ryan, ordered the study by Global Services and Systems Inc. last fall after black chaplains accused the second-ranking chaplain of making a racially offensive remark during a staff meeting at the corps’ headquarters at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Blacks also complained of a lack of advancements.

Ryan sent a letter to all chaplain service personnel on July 30. It said in part, “I have carefully reviewed the results of the survey and am concerned about reported perceptions of race, gender or religious affiliation discrimination or preferential treatment. We must fix the condition underlying these perceptions. There is no place in our Air Force for discrimination, preferential treatment or unfairness of any kind.”

Last year, the Air Force inspector general’s office investigated the charge that the deputy chief of chaplains, Brig. Gen. Lorraine K. Potter, said at a meeting that “African American chaplains are good pastors and preachers but cannot do staff work.”

Potter, the service’s first female chaplain to attain the rank of general, denied making the remark. An IG investigator concluded Potter had made some type of remark about blacks, but that her words were not “wrongfully” discriminatory. She was cleared of the charge.

The Air Force promoted Potter to major general and named her chief of chaplains in May.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center, there were 592 active-duty chaplains last year. Seventy-eight, or 13 percent, were black. Of 54 chaplain colonels, three, or 5 percent, are black. There are now five black colonels, but one plans to retire later this year.

“Many anecdotal comments were made with regard to a strong perception that racial prejudice plays a significant role in the lives of African American chaplains,” states the “climate assessment study.”

“It was stated repeatedly that only 13 African Americans have reached the level of colonel in the 51-year history of the Air Force. The perception exists that choice assignments, promotion, advancement and career development opportunities are mostly available to only a select few members from the African American community.”

The study at one point concludes, “There is a general lack of confidence and faith in the integrity of the senior leadership of the Air Force chaplain service.”

The deputy chief of chaplains, Brig. Gen. Charles Baldwin, presented the report July 30 to a diversity task force. The task force, which also heard from Potter, has developed a plan of action.

“They identified several different initiatives in that plan to address the issues highlighted in this chaplain service climate assessment,” said Maj. Mike Caldwell, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.

Potter has made no public response to the report, but plans to discuss it in a teleconference with chaplains worldwide, Caldwell said.
Reprinted by permission of The Washington Times. Scarborough is a writer for The Times.

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  • Rowan Scarborough