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Washington National Guard Wing receives National-Level Diversity Award

The Wingman Project Council from the 194th Wing was recently presented with the 2021 National Guard Excellence in Diversity Award for their accomplishments that champion inclusion, foster belonging, and forge unity through personal accountability, shared experiences and collective action.

“Diversity is not just about race,” said Senior Master Sgt. Naziroh Brockman, 194th Wing human resource advisor. “It’s all our values, how we think and feel, how we view the world – and the Airmen want to be heard.”

The council acquired certifications in Four Lenses personality-type training, a Diversity and Inclusion course, and the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act Loop concept. Council members also used a Remesh Inc. survey technology system to provide real-time, anonymous metrics to uncover what potential issues people were facing in the workplace. They then formulated professional development briefings and programs to address those issues head on.

“The idea that drove the Remesh survey and got the council started was all of the civil unrest and political divisiveness that arose in our society,” Brockman said. “We were lucky to have our 194th Wing Commander, Colonel Kenneth Borchers, lead the way to let the Airmen know that all Airmen matter, we are not excluding anyone, and we want to hear what you have to say.”

Brockman said that having Borchers’ support was probably the biggest advantage in the success of the council. Volunteers and hand-selected Airmen formed the Washington Air National Guard’s Wingman Project Council. They also have representation from human resources and Equal Opportunity to add some formality.

“This national award is a testament of the work of the 194th Wing and our entire organization and recognizes the important strategies we have carried out to encourage a more diverse and inclusive organization,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general.

The Washington Military Department’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusionary began several years ago under the late Command Sgt. Maj. Abby West.

“Abby left such a legacy here and I know that we are trying to live up to that and continue to show why diversity matters,” said Master Sgt. Susie Lopez, the state equal employment manager.

Working with the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (NGB/DEI), Lopez has raised awareness and highlighted the contributions and service opportunities within the National Guard. The agency, under a directive from Gov. Jay Inslee, also leads a Pro-Equity Anti-Racism (PEAR) committee to ensure that everyone employed or served by the Washington Military Department is treated with fairness, dignity, honor, and respect

“We are always looking to educate and showcase our organization’s diversity,” said Lopez. “Because of the work we have done to raise awareness, we now have DEI reps in every major subordinate command working to educate others on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Helseth, 194th Wing first sergeant, said the entire wing stepped up, participated, and strengthened the wing’s resolve to keep the topic of diversity at the forefront of what it means to be a member of the Washington Air National Guard.

“Working with the Wingman Project Council has been, and continues to be, an inspirational part of my life,” Helseth said. “Here is a group of Airmen – enlisted and officers, junior and senior – that gather to discuss the ramifications of diversity and inclusion in our society, and how that can and should intersect with the Air Force. The very topic of diversity is not an easy one to approach. But true change in culture does not happen easily.”

Brockman said the council thrives due to team consistency.

“This award reflects our consistency as a team,” Brockman said. “Holding hard conversations, creating workshops, and having civilian guest speakers gave an unbiased approach to educate us on how people work together, as well as helped drive the narrative and reach people in new ways of how we can respectfully work together in the military and embrace new ways of thinking.”

The council encourages younger Airmen to join. Brockman said she is excited about the new perspectives they will bring to help leadership know what Airmen need to feel like they belong.

“It’s really about them, and how we bring them up to be diverse leaders so they can better lead their Airmen in the future,” Brockman said. “We have found it’s the little things that add up and make people not want to serve – so it’s how can we mitigate those things and have those conversations to make Airmen feel comfortable to discuss the challenges they face in their work environments and let them know they’re not the only one who is struggling.”

Borchers is adamant on encouraging leaders to participate in the workshops, learn new perspectives to help the Airmen feel more included, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

“We have a great team,” Helseth said. “The council is willing to stand up for something that is important if not always popular. This award is a direct reflection of the 194th Wing as a whole, the connection to the Wingman Project Council, and the forward-leaning nature that we have as a large entity.”