At the midpoint of my military career, I had the privilege of teaching jet engine maintenance to brand new airmen at Sheppard AFB, Texas.
After eight years of service in the field, I volunteered and was selected to become a training instructor. This was such a rewarding and enriching time because it not only gave me the opportunity to positively impact over 500 new Air Force members, it also taught me the importance of diversity.
Thousands of airmen go through basic training every year and when they get to their technical schools, they are placed in classes with other new airmen, that often don’t know each other.
The classes I taught varied is size, usually from 5 to 15 airmen. It was so cool to teach these teams, as they spent the first few days learning the differences between a wrench and a screwdriver, to overhauling fighter jet engines just 3 months later!
The trainees were from all over the country. Different backgrounds, races, religions, genders, even accents (it was fun watching a young person from Dallas working alongside a young person from New York City)!
In the military, you learn quickly to get along with people different from you. In extreme cases, your life may depend on it! Diversity immersion for these young people starts day one at basic training, continues into technical school and throughout their careers.
Having gone through basic, technical school training, and eight years of service, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to teach that I realized how important diversity truly is.
Whether the military or the corporate world, whenever we get to work alongside someone different from us, it stretches us and causes personal growth. Recognizing our differences and setting them aside to focus on accomplishing a task or goal makes us realize our own unique strengths and weaknesses.
The beauty in our diversity happens when teammates recognize how each person’s strength fills in the gaps for each person’s weakness on the team.
Take a football team, for example. The six-foot tall, lean and speedy wide receiver should not be placed at center to hike the ball and block for the quarterback. That would be disastrous! Likewise, the center should not line up and run a post route to catch a 20-yard pass.
The physical diversity between a wide receiver and a center make them wildly successful in their respective positions on the team. They complement one another by each playing within their strength zones and the team has a better chance of success.
Getting young airmen to realize what their teammates can contribute was much the same. Working together to accomplish installing turbines (a multi-person task) caused them to appreciate each other and what they brought to the team.
Some were physically stronger than others, some were better at reading and interpreting the technical manuals, and some were more mechanically inclined. The point is, they discovered their teammates’ strengths and used them to become successful together.
As each class neared the end of training, they developed deep and meaningful relationships with each other. They would often exchange contact information so they could stay in touch after graduating as they prepared to go to their first duty assignments.
It was so rewarding to help these young adults realize that it is wonderful to work with people different from themselves. Little did they know how much they taught me about the importance of diverse team dynamics!