Time to Address the Elephant in the Room

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Reanna Hartgrove
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing

Sometimes, the hardest conversations are the most needed for growth. The 916th Air Refueling Wing recognizes this and set out on a path for growth by creating the Elephant in the Room discussion forum.

The Elephant in the Room began as an idea engineered by Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Greene, 916th AMXS First Sergeant and Senior Master Sgt. Rebecca J. Wyatt, 567th Red Horse Squadron First Sergeant and others within the 916th. They wanted a safe platform for some of the harder discussions sparked by recent events.

“After the murder of George Floyd, Senior Master Sgt. Greene came to me and said ‘we need to do something’,” said Wyatt. “It was important that we used our platforms as First Sergeants to address it, along with a host of other issues.”

The forum came to life during the June 2020 Unit Training Assembly with the topic of race and what is seen in the media, and how it relates specifically to unit members. The topic of suicide has also been discussed and topics like women in the military, LGBTQ+ in the military, abuse of position and many more are potential discussions for upcoming forums according to Greene and Wyatt.

“Our objective was to stop ignoring what’s been happening blatantly because the things that happen on the outside impact us on the inside as military personnel,” said Wyatt. “We wanted to get away from the formalized aspect of discussion where it becomes more of a lecture. The objective was to have an organic real conversation in a safe space so people could talk about things that most people don’t know about.”

“I want any minority group or anyone who feels like they might be an outcast or face judgement to feel comfortable speaking and helping us to understand where they’re coming from,” explained Greene.

The forum is in place for airmen and civilians of all ranks and positions.

“I wanted my peers in leadership to be able to have these uncomfortable conversations and to learn from everyone’s perspective,” explained Greene. “There are people who feel a part of the unit and safe while at work but once they leave, are faced with judgement or discrimination and I want our leaders to understand that.”

“We are working to shift the culture to where airmen are not afraid to speak because they are the ones in the thick of it,” said Wyatt. “We want them to come and know they are protected and should not fear retaliation.”

According to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, building trust and a healthy workplace requires effective communication processes. An open communication climate is characterized by a dialogue that requires unrestricted, honest and mutual interaction for people to understand each other better, to promote tolerance and to minimize conflicts.

“We are hoping to get more people involved and continue to be consistent,” Greene explains. “We have to build the trust of those attending so they know we really care and mean what we say.”

The 916th ARW is invested in continuing healthy and genuine dialogue in hopes of creating a more understanding and empathetic work environment. For a more personal conversation, both Senior Master Sgt. Greene and Senior Master Sgt. Wyatt have made it known their doors are open for any and all personnel.

“If you don’t want to speak in the forum, you can reach out to us privately and we can sit and talk,” said Greene.

SMSgt. Greene can be contacted at Christopher.greene.17@us.af.mil and SMSgt. Wyatt can be contacted at Rwyatt80@yahoo.com.