MEO strives to uphold diversity

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Maj. Scott Johnson, the 62nd Airlift Wing's chief of Military Equal Opportunity, speaks with MEO superintendent Master Sgt. Sherri Chavez, 62nd AW, about the  office's upcoming installation climate assessment. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tyler Hemstreet)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Maj. Scott Johnson, the 62nd Airlift Wing's chief of Military Equal Opportunity, speaks with MEO superintendent Master Sgt. Sherri Chavez, 62nd AW, about the office's upcoming installation climate assessment. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tyler Hemstreet)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Diversity in the Air Force is something Airmen in the Military Equal Opportunity office here celebrate on a daily basis.

"Everyone brings something of value to the fight," said MEO chief Maj. Scott Johnson, 62nd Airlift Wing.

But when that diversity is undermined, mocked or harassed, the MEO office is quick to help resolve the situation.

The office clarifies incidents that involve five protected categories of discrimination: race, color, national origin, religion and gender, as well as incidents of sexual harassment.

The office provides an avenue of resolution for military members, retirees or family members who feel they've been discriminated against.

People who feel alienated due to discrimination can file formal complaints with the office and seek advice about their situations.

While the office has no problems filing claims for those who feel they've been discriminated against, Major Johnson said he encourages those parties involved to resolve issues at a lower level.

Sometimes the incident can be simply a case of miscommunication, he said.

"We encourage those who have an issue to come in and talk to us. While some people need our help, others may not," Major Johnson said. 

"In many cases, we refer the individual to another agency, such as the inspector general or the sexual assault response coordinator."

There are cases where the offender is perhaps discriminating in ways he or she is not aware of, he said. 

"We try to look into it to see if there is a pattern," Major Johnson said.

However, the MEO staff doesn't offer confidentiality, Major Johnson said.

"We're here for the commanders," he said. "If someone tells me that the issue is affecting his morale and could affect the mission, then commanders need to know that."

Sometimes the issues Airmen are dealing with aren't easy to sort out, said MEO superintendent Master Sgt. Sherri Chavez, 62nd AW.

"Not everything is black and white, there are plenty of gray areas," she said. 

"There are many questions you have to ask -- you can't just jump to an assumption."

By contacting all people involved in an incident gathering facts and analyzing data, along with the wing's legal office, the MEO staff reports its findings to the appropriate commander for possible action.

But the office staff prefers to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to discrimination, Major Johnson said.

Sergeant Chavez said the easiest way to offer MEO services to Airmen is to visit and speak to different units to help get the word out on issues Airmen might be dealing with.

"Just getting out there and talking to people helps you sometimes hear things that might be affecting the climate of the base," she said.

By being proactive and alerting commanders of any issues that come up, the MEO office helps prevent negative behaviors before they affect morale on base.

"Ultimately our goal is to change inappropriate behavior," Major Johnson said.