ARLINGTON, Va. -- The National Guard Bureau recently merged its equal opportunity and diversity offices and announced the formation of its new Office of Equity and Inclusion.

The consolidation is an effort to streamline the two functions and is modeled after similar organizational structures throughout the Department of Defense, said Air Force Col. Aimee Storm, chief of the new office.

"This approach is designed to improve performance and functionality of the two distinctly different, but interrelated areas of work," she said, adding Guard members will ultimately be the recipients of improved service as a result of the merger.

Storm likened the consolidation to physical and mental health care practitioners coming together to provide more robust care.

"In my mind, the patient in [that] metaphor is not the employee, but the organization," she said. "Equity and inclusion can improve the health of the organization when we work in concert."

Storm said the merger encourages Soldiers and Airmen to think of diversity as something mission essential and not just about meeting goals based on demographics.

"[The office] ensures that our organizational environment is agile and inclusive, positioning us to recognize, harness and leverage the full capabilities of every Soldier and Airman," said Storm.

If Guard members feel like they are not part of the team, she said, "it'll make it very difficult to come into work and give 100%."

Just as diversity is essential, Storm said she hoped Guard members would view the equal opportunity as more than just aligning with laws and regulations in place to address possible discriminatory practices.

"[Equity means the Guard] ensures every service member has equitable access to resources, training and professional development opportunities," she said.

Storm said the consolidation would improve the means for the NGB to provide support and policy guidance to Guard units on equal opportunity and diversity issues.

"This gives us enhanced synergy and push," said Storm.

Part of that push includes this year's upcoming NGB Excellence in Diversity Awards, now in its eighth year. The awards divided into five categories recognize individual Guard members and units for implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Award nomination packages are due June 21 and are reviewed at the NGB, with Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, making the final selections.

Andrea Browne-Phillips, a branch chief with the equity and inclusion office, said the awards assist with amplifying diversity initiatives throughout the Guard.

"It helps us identify and highlight best practices from [Guard units]," said Browne-Phillips, adding that it also helps inform the definition of what "good" looks like for the National Guard.

While recognition is important, Storm said Guard members should understand that diversity and inclusion are mission-essential functions.

"It's like the old saying that 'two minds are better than one,'" Storm said. "Well, two diverse minds are better than one. We meet the mission when we have folks who think differently."

At the end of the day, she said, the merger reflects a different approach in focusing on equity and inclusion in the Guard.

"We wanted to concentrate on things that help our folks meet their readiness [requirements] and meet the mission," said Storm. "So we choose those two terms as being the most important part for our office.