cover image of The Air Force's Black Ceiling

The Air Force's Black Ceiling

by Ivan Thompson


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The "Air Force's Black Ceiling" is a view of diversity in the Air Force from one man's over 28 years in the Air Force. This view begins with his perspectives and insights as an Air Force Academy cadet and continues with his progression through company and field grade ranks. It also includes special insights gained while serving on the Secretary of Defense's Diversity Task Force as the Deputy Director of the Defense Business Practice Implementation Board. The author's view of diversity has been bolstered by face to face interviews with five former African American Air Force four-star generals and numerous current and former African American generals in the Air Force and the Army. The author's views are also influenced by numerous discussions with former graduates of the US Air Force Academy, his work with the Tuskegee Airmen chapters and his own detailed research into the biographies of former Air Force Chiefs of Staff and former Strategic, Tactical and Air Combat Command Commanders. The title might imply that the "Black Ceiling" has been put in place on purpose by senior Air Force leaders... the reader will find out that isn't the case. The reader however will find out that there are very distinct remnants of an intricate system of exclusionary development practices, cultural practices, stereotypes and biases that have served to keep the ceiling in place for African American men throughout the Air Force's existence.

The author redefines diversity in an effort to show that certain doors in the US Air Force still remain solidly closed to African Americans in 2016. Previous definitions of diversity allowed the Air Force to appear successful if it had a black four-star general on the roster. The author's definition keys in on diversity in the fighter pilot ranks. This is a critical distinction. It is a pivotal distinction to point out that until 2015 the Air Force has never had so much as a three-star general in charge of fighter or bomber forces in Tactical, Strategic, or Air Combat Command or in US Air Forces Europe. There has never been a four-star commander of any of these commands. A generation of fighting the Cold War in Europe. Nearly a generation of war-fighting in Iraq. With no African American three-star generals leading the fight until 2015. The author will show that the Air Force has a history of picking its Chiefs of Staff, its Commanders of Tactical, Strategic, Air Combat and US Air Forces Europe from general officers who were proven in the fight. The author shows in detail the selective and exclusionary development of non-minority officers from the time of commission, only to point to changes that must be made to change diversity where it is needed most: fighter pilot general officers. The target audience for this book is those who recognize that the Air Force is a great institution that can be made better. Those who might be in a position to influence or even make the changes recommended in this book to make the Air Force better than it has ever been.

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The Air Force's Black Ceiling
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