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.
Ivan Thompson is the CEO of Launch Productions. He is a singer/songwriter, actor, author, business consultant, and inventor. Ivan’s books have garnered rave reviews and are available on Amazon as well as all major retailer websites. Ivan has published multiple Christian titles, an exceptional book about diversity in the Air Force, a fitness book and a book to help new writers become published authors. Ivan’s audiobooks are also available on Audible.
Ivan has over 25 years consulting senior military and civilian leaders. He has conducted senior leadership off-sites, strategic planning sessions and served as the Deputy Director of the Defense Business Practice Implementation Board. As the Deputy, he helped facilitate and lead Task Groups for the Secretary of Defense comprised of senior DoD civilians and retired and active Fortune 500 CEOs. As a singer/songwriter, he has performed the National Anthem for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dodgers, LA Kings, St. Louis Rams, LA Sparks, NASCAR, NCAA and was a guest soloist on the Bobby Jones Gospel show and Tom Joyner show. He has performed across the US and Europe as Tour Director of the Air Force’s Tops in Blue traveling entertainment team.
This bubble reveals the target audience for this book. That audience is my USAFA classmates who have grown up to be the three and now four-star leaders of the Air Force. They will be the ones who shape the diversity landscape of the Air Force of 2020 with their values and decisions. My hope is that something in this book will impact them in a positive way to bring about positive and lasting changes in the diversity of the fighter pilot landscape of the Air Force.
The Air Force’s Black Ceiling
Who Am I Writing This Book For?
It dawned on me at my 20th Air Force Academy reunion in 2006 that my non-minority classmates had grown up in their careers to be relatively senior leaders (Colonels, Wing, Vice-Wing and Operations Group Commanders) in an Air Force with relatively no black fighter pilots. I wondered, how they had explained this lack of diversity to themselves. We used to joke at the Academy that black people couldn’t swim because of their disproportionate numbers in remedial swimming. Could my white classmates’ Air Force experience cause them to think black people can’t swim…and black people can’t fly? More black fighter pilots served in the Air Force during World War II than at any time in my 24-year Air Force career. The Tuskegee “experiment” produced over 900 black pilots, approximately 680 single-engine or fighter pilots and 245 multi-engine or bomber pilots (Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Ron Brewington, 2009). There were 542 fighter pilots across all minority pilot groups at the time I was commissioned in 1986. That number dwindled to less than 200 in 2003 when the data was gathered (HQ USAF Directorate of Personnel, 2003). The Tuskegee Airmen served so long ago. How could my classmates, the Air Force’s next generation of senior leaders, likely know much about them or relate to their experience?
Even further is it possible to lose every aspect of what made the Tuskegee Airmen so exceptional when the last Tuskegee Airmen passes away and joins the ranks of what they call the Lonely Eagles? Sure their legacy would live on and the Air Force has done some great things to ensure that. But is it possible that the notion of black fighter pilots could be forgotten amongst our future Air Force leaders with no tangible explanation for why it was possible to successfully produce black fighter pilots in WWII but not now, nearly 75 years later?
This book is an effort to stir the pot again in hopes that the Air Force’s senior leadership, my former classmates, will consider a change in direction from the unsuccessful diversity approaches the Air Force has attempted thus far. A few of my classmates have attained lieutenant general rank. They are becoming the senior leaders of the Air Force. I sincerely hope to influence them and other future Air Force leaders, especially in the fighter pilot community, to re-examine their own explanations for the lack of black fighter pilots.
One of the purposes of this book is also to show my white classmates that there is a different view, to give them insight into how a black person in the same Air Force might look at the same situation in a totally different manner. Armed with this insight it is my sincere hope that different decisions might be made as it pertains to changing the diversity landscape of the fighter pilot demographic. This insight is essential for the four-stars of the year 2020 so that the Air Force won’t be as divided as the rest of the nation when it comes to matters of race. It is only when we understand each other’s perspective that pulling down the walls that divide majority and minority cultures is possible.