American Airmen, then, now, and in the future

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ericka A. Woolever
  • 350 Spectrum Warfare Wing
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Executive Order 9981, calling for the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces and renounced 170 years of officially sanctioned discrimination. This event marked the first time a U.S. commander in chief used an executive order to implement a civil rights policy. This became a crucial step toward inspiring other parts of American society to accept desegregation.
As an electronic warfare officer (EWO) with 14 years of experience and third generation to serve in the world’s greatest Air Force, Maj. Andrew P. Ferguson, 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing assistant deputy chief, understands the importance of having a diverse force. 
“It’s highly important the U.S. Air Force, and the military as a whole, stays ahead of the game because many people look at us as the example,” said Ferguson. “We have to keep showing others how we can all work hand in hand, by putting our trust and ultimately our lives in the hands of another, regardless of race.”
This profound trust was seen during the Vietnam War, a major conflict, where black and white soldiers were integrated, explained Ferguson. During the Vietnam War people who initially entered the war with racial prejudices soon had a change of heart.
“The friction over time broke down because the same person that was believed to be beneath someone, was the same person saving lives, and that changed perception,” said Ferguson. 
The U.S. Air Force and Space Force continuously make it a point to have diversity and inclusion an essential part of society.
Both forces have laid out a vision for a more diverse officer corp. Where they aim to create a force more representative of the nation, in the hopes of increasing the applicant of black or African American to 13%, which is 10% higher than before.
“There are not a lot of black officers in the Air Force,” said Ferguson.
Initially, when Ferguson attended Undergraduate Combat Systems Officer Training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, he believed the force was a fully diverse force, but unfortunately, he would soon find out that it wasn’t as diverse as he believed.
“My follow-on training was to become specialized in the EC-130H Compass Call, and the training was in Tucson,” said Ferguson. “Moving there was a culture shock, I’ve never traveled that far west, so I didn’t know what I had in store for myself. It wasn’t long into training when I realized that none of the other students or instructors were black.”
It seemed Ferguson wasn’t the only person surprised.
“I could feel people do a doubletake while I was in processing, or walking around,” said Ferguson. “I think they were also surprised to see a black officer in the squadron.” 
While he trained in Tucson, Ferguson felt apprehensive, he didn’t want anyone to think any gaps in his knowledge were because of the way he looked, but rather because the training he received at NAS Pensacola was vastly different, explained Ferguson.
“This continued for a few months, until a fellow black classmate from Pensacola arrived and I knew I wasn’t alone anymore,” said Ferguson.
Coming to the realization that less people looked like him, led Ferguson to one thing, mentorship. Ferguson remembered what it felt like as a young lieutenant, and he remembered how he felt having someone to aspire to be.
“When I see a new black lieutenant, I try to mentor them, I give them real expectations, but most importantly I try to be a good example,” said Ferguson.
Ultimately, Ferguson believes the best way to pave the path for those that come after him, derive from the words of retired U.S. Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. “If my making an advancement can serve as some kind of spark to some young black or other minority, it will be worth all the years, all the blood and sweat it took in getting here.”