WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead participated in a women’s equality panel discussion this week, telling the audience that while significant progress has been made for women in the military, “we have to do more.”
He said Guardsmen shouldn’t embrace an inclusive spirit just for the sake of it but rather to find the right people “to help us be successful.”
“We’ve got to just say everyone deserves an opportunity. And if it doesn’t work, then fine – because for a lot of us, it didn’t,” said Whitehead, who serves as the senior enlisted advisor to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “But we’ve got to give them a chance.”
This involves creating an inclusive culture for women from the beginning.
“They should feel welcomed even before they sign on the dotted line,” said Whitehead. “We’ve got to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we’re doing a better job of making it possible for them to want to serve.”
To amplify that message, he posed a rhetorical question to audience members:
If a workplace had an unsavory culture, “Would you go home and give your daughter an application to sign up for the military? No, you wouldn’t,” Whitehead said. “So that’s something that we have to continue to work on.”
Part of that work, he said during the panel discussion, can mean leaders need to get to know their people so they can help them bring more to the table.
“[Our] daughters, sisters and mothers are individuals with unique experiences that can help us be a great organization, but we have to spend the time to get to know them,” said Whitehead. “It’s more than just knowing their skills or what they do best.”
Younger enlisted personnel, he said, need to play their part, too.
“Think about what you’re hearing and seeing, and speak up if you have to. And if you can’t speak up, then find somebody who will,” Whitehead said. “Because if you don’t, the culture will evolve and you’ll find yourself asking, ‘How do I deal with this now?’”
Before and after the panel, Whitehead toured Whiteman AFB and learned more about the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing and the Missouri Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment. The former maintains and operates the B-2 Stealth Bomber, a global strike aircraft responsible for the delivery of nuclear and conventional weapons, while the latter operates the unit’s UH-60 Black Hawks and has been heavily embedded in domestic operations and overseas security requirements.
Whiteman officials said the base is a model for Total Force integration, with regular and reserve Air Force units operating the B-2, A-10 Thunderbolt and MQ-9 Reaper.
Whitehead said the Joint Force mindset at the base is fitting for Guard members.
“It’s impressive to see their level of communication, and I don’t mean from the leadership level, because that has to be there,” he said. “But from the operational and tactical level, where the youngest of our Airmen and Soldiers are learning what it’s like to be a part of the different components in the National Guard, and how each of those components have a compounding effect on how we accomplish missions.”
Whitehead also recognized a select group of Airmen and Soldiers for their contributions by presenting them challenge coins.
For Spc. Andrew Hughes, a helicopter mechanic with the 1-135th, Whitehead’s recognition of him and other Guardsmen means that excellence is a never-ending pursuit.
“Being recognized like this means we are doing the right thing, and it also means we need to keep doing what we are doing and improving and set the standard for everyone else,” Hughes said.
Speaking of Hughes and other coin recipients, Whitehead said, “We will outpace our adversaries because of folks like you.”
However impressive the military hardware is behind the 131st and the 1-135th, Whitehead said it’s the human element that sets the stage for mission success.
“Whiteman Air Force Base is uniquely situated here in Missouri, where service members really need to rely on one another because of how far and wide things are spread,” he said. “It’s a reflection of our National Guard because the things we need to be successful involves our families, our employers and our communities.”