The Need to Address Hispanic Disparities in the Air Force
Ricardo Aponte, Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force, Retired
Carlos E. Martinez, Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force, Retired
The undersigned recently reviewed the Air Force’s Independent Racial Disparity Review (IRDR) published in December 2020, which focused on disparities affecting the African-American members of the force and provided recommendations to develop systemic action plans for each (1). The IRDR study presented a significant amount of data that showed racial disparities for black service members in apprehensions, criminal investigations, military justice, administrative separations, placement into occupational career fields, certain promotion rates, professional military educational development, and leadership opportunities. Because the focus of the report was on African-American issues, the report did not include complete data on Hispanics. Yet, the limited Hispanic data that the IRDR did include clearly shows disparities for Hispanics that are as great or even greater than those affecting African-Americans. Consequently, we believe that while the IRDR is a good first step towards addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the Air Force, it is incomplete, and the recommendations contained therein are premature.
Based on our collective and personal experience as former senior leaders and minority officers, we suggest that the Air Force immediately commission another IRDR-type review focusing on the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. Air Force, the Hispanic members of the force.
As the focus of the IRDR was on African-Americans, the information provided in the report only includes data on Hispanics for only a few categories of information such as promotion rates and selections for command positions. While the IRDR correctly identifies significant issues facing African-Americans with respect to these two categories of data, the data that is presented clearly shows similar disparities facing Hispanics, but these are not discussed.
For example, IRDR data clearly show underrepresentation of Hispanics in command level positions, in particular, the low selection rate of Hispanic officers to Squadron Commander and Wing Commander slots. As acknowledged in the report, these types of assignments are necessary for future advancement in rank. As shown by the data in the report Hispanic service members are consequently underrepresented in promotions to Major through Colonel, severely underrepresented in promotions to Brigadier General and Major General, and have zero promotions to the ranks of Lieutenant General and General.
While these differences are clearly evident in the report, the report’s narrow focus on African- American problems in the Air Force has led to the development of recommendations that may not necessarily address longstanding disparities for Hispanics and other minorities. Also, while the IRDR suggests that the root causes of racial and ethnic disparities should be investigated, it goes on to provide specific corrective recommendations without the benefit of conducting such an analysis. Consequently, we believe that the IRDR should only be considered a “first step” towards promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the Air Force, but more research needs to be done before any actionable recommendations be developed.
Specifically, we believe that the Air Force should immediately commission another IRDR-type review with several structural modifications:
- The comprehensive review should be focused on Hispanic service members, as they represent one of the three largest populations in the Air Force.
- The review should include surveys and interviews of Hispanic members, as was done for African-American members.
- The review should capitalize on the existing data to develop actionable recommendations that can be accomplished in the near term.
- To support longer-term solutions, the review should seek to identify root causes of lack of diversity, for which additional longitudinal data analyses may be needed.
- The review should truly be independent, meaning the chairperson and key leaders of the review should be sourced from outside the Air Force.
Previous published data found the eligible officer population for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino cohorts to be 7 percent and 9 percent respectively while the U.S. Hispanic population is 18 percent and growing steadily. Many census forecasts project that the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population will increase from 18 percent to approximately 25 percent over the next 20-30 years, so unless steps are taken to identify and correct the disparities in Hispanic representation already identified in the IRDR, the underrepresentation of Hispanics is only going to get worse.
After this review is complete, the Air Force should develop means to ensure accountability for accomplishing the corrective actions recommended by the report. For example, it should form a permanent council or commission charged with monitoring and enforcing the execution of the targeted strategies over time. The Air Force does not and perhaps should not do this alone. It can draw upon the expertise resident in organizations such as the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance (HVLA), an organization committed to advancing the inclusion of Hispanics throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) in this endeavor. The HVLA’s advocacy with Congressional leaders and national Hispanic community leaders will reinforce the Air Force’s desire for transparency and accountability.
(1) “Independent Racial Disparity Review,” December 2020, Online: