Growing leadership & professionalism: Equal Opportunity

by Staff Sgt. Jake Barreiro
51st Fighter Wing PAO

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- This is the sixth in a series of articles relating to an overview of the 51st Fighter Wing priorities at Osan Air Base. The major role Team Osan plays in the Republic of Korea and the extent of its mission will be showcased this week in the way Team Osan "Grows Leadership and Professionalism." Next week, we will provide an in-depth look at how Team Osan can make Osan AB a better assignment by showing how Airmen improve the base and assignment by "driving innovative solutions." Concluding this series will be a wrap-up article with a video reiterating the importance of the wing's priorities.

Cornered away in the slim hallways of building 819, the Equal Opportunity office at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, can often be out of sight and thought for the daily perpetuators of the base's mission. Yet, the office of four has a continuous job to ensure the men and women of Team Osan stay mission ready by being a part of a professional, respectful, and, above all, equal working environment.

Often associated with words of negative connotation, like "discrimination", EO professionals aren't just an avenue for lodging complaints. Although their primary job is to ensure fairness across the Air Force while eradicating mistreatment, there are a slew of daily tasks EOs involved in. Standard operations for EO include on top of handling complaints: collecting and analyzing data from unit climate surveys, visiting the working force around the base, coordinating special observances on the base, and serving at mediators for disputes.

Tech Sgt. Alejandra Chavez is the non-commissioned officer in charge of EO at Osan. She said working in EO is vastly important because people often come to them with serious problems.

"For some people we're the last stop, and it's a big responsibility to be able to help them the best we can," said Chavez. "Sometimes we've had people come into our office because they can't think of where else to go. It's important for us to be able to listen to be nonjudgmental and helpful."

Dealing with issues of discrimination and inequality, spanning, but not limited to, race, gender, ethnicity and religion, objectivity is an important element of the EO job. Chavez said people often seek out EO for the explicit purpose of filing a complaint, and it's their job to listen, instruct and then help.

"We're always taught to be listeners first and then counselors," she said. "I've found that a lot of times, when someone walks through our doors, they're determined to file a complaint, but also need someone who will listen to them."

One of the most valuable EO services is mediation, said Master Sgt. Virmania Accoo, EO superintendent.

"We're  professionally trained as mediators, and it's one of the least known skills we have," said Accoo.

Mediation training is intended to give EO professionals the skills to impartially go between disputing parties, and ideally, arrive at a compromise or resolution that is satisfactory. It may not be the first thing individuals think of when they consider approaching EO, but Chavez said it's a great alternative and way to open up lines of communication.

Another prime EO duty, that's both ubiquitous and mysterious to service members, is compiling the unit climate surveys. Unit climate surveys are periodic questionnaires filled out by Airmen and civilians in work centers across the Air Force.  They seek feedback on what's good and bad in work centers, and the EO office is responsible for looking at all of them and forwarding the concerns and comments to commanders on base, who are then in turn responsible for briefing their commanders. Eventually, the information is taken to Air Force headquarters and beyond.

Response to unit climate surveys is part of EO's reactive approach. Results are used to determine future ways in which they can help positively preserve respect in the work environment.

Among the ways EO can be most effective is by taking a proactive approach, said Chavez. They seek to do this by scheduling quarterly "drop ins" where they visit a unit and simply talk to people. Yet, Chavez and Accoo both said they often get tepid reactions and people seem unsure about what exactly they do.

"'Watch what you say, EO is here' is a joke we hear way too often," said Chavez. "We want to break that stigma that we're here to specifically scrutinize or get people in trouble."

The stigma comes as a result of commonly associating EO with complaints, which is only one of their duties.

"We do a lot more than just handle complaints," said Chavez. "Our program is about helping people. Whether that be recommending the right resources or listening to them. We're not a prosecuting agency, we're a helping agency."

A visible way in which EO positively affects the base community is through the monthly observances they help organize. The observances for which EO plans, sits on committee, organizes and hosts run at least monthly and include diverse topics from multiple ethnicities and worldviews.

Ultimately, the job of EO is to assist people, and help them work in the best environment possible.

"This job can be challenging, but there are great moments too," said Chavez. "For me, the best moments are when I'm able to talk to people and help them. When someone leaves our office empowered and better than when they came in. Knowing I did something to help somebody is the best part of any day."

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