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NGB selects international training wing for top diversity honors

Tucson’s Ballet Folklorico Los Mextucaz, take a souvenir photo in front of an F-16 static display at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. The dance team demonstrated Mexican folk dancing at the wing to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, Oct. 3, 2008. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Tucson’s Ballet Folklorico Los Mextucaz, take a souvenir photo in front of an F-16 static display at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. The dance team demonstrated Mexican folk dancing at the wing to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, Oct. 3, 2008. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Craig R. McKinley announced the 162nd Fighter Wing here as the recipient of the "Excellence in Diversity Award," March 26.

The award recognizes the international F-16 training wing for its contributions to mission readiness and diversity initiatives that impact the National Guard, state and local community. The wing was singled out for its leadership commitment, outstanding nationwide results, recruitment and retention and multiple partnerships with civilian organizations.

"As Citizen Airmen it's vital that our Guardsmen reflect the diverse community we serve. It's an honor to be recognized by the National Guard Bureau for our diversity efforts," said Col. Greg Stroud, wing commander. "Since sharing culture and diversity are an integral part of our international pilot training mission, it's nice to know that our programs and workforce are at the forefront of diversity issues."

The 162nd mission establishes strong ties with international partners from 23 nations that fly the F-16. Within that role, the wing's International Military Student Office (IMSO) strives to enhance relationships and minimize difficulties such as culture shock and other cultural barriers. It not only educates foreign student pilots about the American way of life but also provides education to Airmen about the cultures of foreign students.
In 2008, the wing's IMSO staff brought home the IMSO Team of the Year award in the small activities category for their superior service out of 24 IMSOs Air Force wide.

Diversity education is the cornerstone of the wing's programs. In addition to annual briefings and individual mentorship, Airmen here are exposed to the value of multi-cultural experiences through wing-wide observances of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, African-American History Month and Women's History Month to name a few.

"We know that diverse teams can produce more innovative ideas and a wider range of solutions to problems," said Colonel Stroud. "For that reason our education and mentoring programs are designed to address diversity as an important part of every Airman's professional development."

As a result, Airmen from assorted backgrounds are finding their way to leadership positions.

"At the 162nd, women and minorities occupy high-visibility leadership positions ranging from first sergeant, to fighter pilot, to group commander," said Maj. Sandy Wilson, wing equal opportunity officer. "Merit and exemplary qualifications are the most important factors in every decision we make, and diversity is certainly part of every equation. In addition, our work force make up is reflective of the community's civilian labor force. We're proud to say that almost 30 percent of our Guardsmen are Hispanic."

According to the major, it all begins with recruiting. In 2008, wing recruiting brought a total of 197 new accessions comprised of 23 percent Hispanics, 8 percent African Americans, 3 percent American Indians and 5 percent Asians. Wing leaders work closely with recruiters to identify areas of under representation and seek new initiatives to fill positions with the best-qualified employees.

Often, reaching under-represented groups means establishing partnerships within the community.

As an example, the wing provides base tours to interested groups of potential recruits including the Civil Air Patrol, local high schools and YMCA teen centers.

The 162nd invites hundreds of local students to participate in the annual Holocaust survivor remembrance day where Holocaust survivors tell their stories first hand. Through this effort, the wing hopes to educate students about the horrors of genocide to ensure that it will never happen again.

"We help with Freedom Academies, Drug Demand Reduction Youth Camps and Drug Education for Youth programs," said Major Wilson. "They offer education on goal setting and positive lifestyle choices while building leadership skills and self-esteem. Wing members volunteer at these events as instructors based on their Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), as logisticians or as camp staff to monitor program security and safety."

The 162nd has an ongoing partnership with the Veterans Administration Hospital, Chicanos Por La Causa and has participated in various activities with the governor's office and the Tucson Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee.

"Our state diversity strategic plan focuses on an organizational culture where diversity is valued as a personnel readiness, combat multiplier contingent on high performance. Based on numerous nationwide results, the162nd is clearly the leader in diversity initiatives," said Lt. Col. Shirley Raguindin, state diversity coordinator.

As an example, the past two years, the 162nd was recognized nationally through unit and individual awards:

USAF Team of the Year, 162nd Medical Group, 2008
ANG Best Newspaper, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs office, 2007
NORAD IG (AFE) Inspection "Mission Ready" rating, 162nd Fighter Wing Alert Detachment
ANG Hard Charger Recruiting award, 162nd Fighter Wing Recruiting office
ANG Health Service Inspection "Outstanding" rating, 162 FW Medical Clinic

Individual Awards:
USAF and AETC Ground/Weapons "Safety Well Done" award, Tech. Sgt. Jaime Aviles, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Tibbitts, Staff Sgt. Michael Markve, 2008
USAF "Individual Safety Award," Lt. Col. Doug Slocum
AETC ISR Company Grade Intelligence Officer of the Year, Capt. Edwin Miller, 2008
AETC Senior ISR Intelligence Officer of the Year, Lt. Col. Joe Berlanga, 2007
AETC ISR Airman of the Year, Senior Airman Nerissa Rodriguez, 2007
AF North (lst Air Force) Safety and Health Award, 2007
U.S. Coast Guard Silver Lifesaving Medal, Staff Sgt. Jay Rosenberry, 2007

"I'm proud of our wing and its ability to foster environments on and off base where every individual's contribution is valued and respected," said Colonel Stroud.