BOSTON- It was, fittingly, a diverse crowd of a over 700 Soldiers, Airmen and civilians from across the country who gathered at the Westin Copley Hotel, here, as Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard, stepped to the podium, March 14, 2011.
“The cause of Equal Opportunity/Equal Employment Opportunity and diversity is a continuous commitment,” Carter told the attendees of the 2011 National Guard Diversity Training Conference.
Diversity, according to Webster’s dictionary is “the inclusion of diverse people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization. The Department of Defense defines diversity as “the different characteristics and attributes of individuals”.
For most people, diversity in a group (such as the National Guard) means the group is made up of people of different races, religions, genders and ethnic backgrounds, etc….
But, Brig. Gen. Sandi Dittig isn’t “most people” … she adds “thought” to the list.
“Diversity of thought encompasses all those pieces, but those are just that … they are pieces of diversity,” said Dittig, who serves as the Chair, Director, Army National Guard Equal Opportunity/Equal Employment Opportunity/Diversity Committee.
“At the end of the day, the military, our military, our National Guard especially is a community based force made up of people. People are changing, our country is changing. Our National Guard is globalizing like the rest of the world,” said Dittig. “We don’t look the same, both physically and mentally that we did one or two or three generations ago. Our Guard has grown in its experiences and its cultures, in their families, in their neighborhoods, in their cities, in their states, in the government as we know it.”
One example of the change in today’s society is the repealing of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
“We’re always going have old thinkers who are going to say “You know what, this just isn’t going to work,” said Dittig. “But our younger generation … (it’s) not a big deal for them.”
This change in our society is why the Guard is constantly re-evaluating the way it defines and promotes diversity.
An example of this can be found in a class at the conference entitled “Making it Work: Wearing the Right Hat”
“When you’re a diversity coach, you don’t wear one hat,” said Lourdes Ramboa, who teaches the class.
“When you think of a football coach or a basketball coach, do you think of them … just as the coach running up and down the court or the field?” said Ramboa. “No they spend hours thinking about strategy; recruiting … they do a variety of things. It’s the same with a diversity coach. They have to train, they have to counsel, they have to mentor, they have to monitor.”
For Pegine Echevarria, one of the motivational speakers at the conference and who has a son serving in the National Guard, it was that personal interaction and mentoring from the NCO’s in her son’s unit that helped him grow and reach his full potential.
“My son is a geek,” said Echevarria. “It took sergeants talking to him at lunch when he went to drill. Sergeants, during drill, who took him aside and told him who he could be; it wasn’t Twittered, it wasn’t Skyped, it wasn’t Facebooked, it was sergeants who were face to face … who told him who he could be.”
Echevarria thanked the sergeants for helping her son grow.
It is the personal interaction between people from different backgrounds that is at the heart of the diversity training. A key component to this training is the putting aside of any stereotypes, prejudice’s or preconceived views you may hold against a certain group. Closing your mind and “tolerating one of those people”, who you may have to work with due to a certain operational environment, isn’t practicing diversity, at least not to 1st Lt. Rafael D. Lantigua Jr.
“Tolerance to me is a … environment that allows for diversity to exist, but it is a strained existence,” said Lantigua, who is the first and only Chaplain Candidate of the Muslim faith in the National Guard. “It’s a situation where people have gritted teeth and their bearing it. An attitude hasn’t really changed … we need to get to the hearts of people. That’s where diversity needs to take place, in the hearts of people … in the minds of people.”
Lantigua knows that while diversity training will help to break down stereotypes and prejudices, not every Servicemember is going to get along.
“Judge me based on what I do and how I perform, what my words and actions are,” said Lantigua, “My own merit.”