Air Force orders units to toss offensive morale patches, mottos

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The Air Force is conducting a sweep of its emblems, morale patches, nicknames, and other symbols to weed out those that are racist, sexist or otherwise offensive.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, and Chief of Space Operations Jay Raymond signed a memo Dec. 23 ordering the review.

Squadron commanders and higher have 60 days from the issuing of the memo to review official and unofficial unit emblems, morale patches, mottos, nicknames, coins and other forms of unit recognition and identity, the memo said.

Commanders will be required to remove any visual representation, symbols or language that is derogatory to any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age or disability, the memo said, “to ensure an inclusive and professional environment.”

“It is critical for the Department of the Air Force to embody an environment of dignity, respect and inclusivity for all airmen and [Space Force] guardians,” the memo said, according to an excerpt released by the Air Force. “Our core values demand we hold ourselves to high standards and maintain a culture of respect and trust in our chain of command.”

Continuing to use offensive symbols or names “ostracizes our teammates, undermining unit cohesion and impeding our mission readiness and success,” the memo continued.

The commanders have been instructed to consult historians, staff judge advocates, and equal opportunity specialists during these reviews, the memo said.

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“Our diversity of experience, culture, demographics and perspectives is a force multiplier and essential to our success in this dynamic global environment,” the memo said. “This is not a policy change, but a review of good practices for the health of our culture and all our personnel. We must ensure all our airmen and guardians are valued and respected.”

The Air Force said that its regulations governing organizational lineage, honors and heraldry require emblem designs to “reflect favorably on the United States Air Force, be original, distinctive, dignified, in good taste and non-controversial. Commanders have been instructed to consider the guidance in that document, Air Force Instruction 84-105, as they conduct the review.

The Air Force is working on several efforts to reduce racial discrimination in its ranks, particularly after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed sparked a nationwide reckoning over race. A diversity and inclusion task force last year resulted in several changes, including revised regulations on dress and appearance, increased ROTC scholarship opportunities for minorities, and more training on unconscious bias.

This is not the first time the Air Force has sought to remove outdated and offensive materials and cultural traditions. Following an uproar over a widely circulated, sexually explicit songbook used by fighter pilots and concerns over the service’s culture, former Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh in 2013 ordered a servicewide sweep of workspaces and other public areas to remove images, calendars and other materials that objectified women.

“The demographics of our Air Force have changed,” Welsh said at the time. “Images, songs, stories, or ‘traditions’ that are obscene, vulgar, or that denigrate some percentage of airmen are not the things we value in that proud heritage.”

About

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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