The top Air Force Judge Advocate General this week called on his JAG corps to suggest ways to make the service’s disciplinary process more equitable for airmen of all races.
In a June 3 memo to Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps personnel, posted on the unofficial Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell said that statistics show black male airmen under the age of 25 with less than five years of experience receive non-judicial punishments and are court-martialed at higher rates than white male airmen of the same age and experience.
The stats align with those published in a scathing report last month from Protect Our Defenders, which accused the Air Force of covering up persistent racial disparities in its justice system. Rockwell said that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein had him brief the Air Force’s top leadership on these issues at this week’s annual Corona Top meeting.
“As our nation grapples with the issues of racial justice and equality, the public will look to the Armed Forces to set the example,” Rockwell said. “National security, and the practice of national security law, requires diversity in order to defend our diverse nation.”
Rockwell said that military legal professionals need to ask deeper questions that go beyond whether such punishments and actions are legally sufficient.
“Ask, how did we get here?” Rockwell said. “How are these types of offenses normally addressed in the unit? How did we get to the point that this particular disciplinary action became an Article 15 or court” martial?
And beyond that, Rockwell said, “what are your ideas on how we tackle this issue of disparity in impact across the entire spectrum of discipline? Are we welcoming all new airmen into the Air Force family and fostering an atmosphere of inclusion? ... What efforts can we make, whether within our JAG Corps or within the Department of the Air Force, to address this disparity?"
Rockwell urged his airmen to send him their suggestions, or pass them along to their commanders, supervisors or co-workers.
“While these conversations may be difficult, we must get past that to get to the discussions and resolutions,” Rockwell said. “As legal professionals, we thrive in debate of difficult topics — and no topic is as important as the value and inclusion of each of our airmen.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.