Following the death of a Minnesota man, George Floyd, during a police arrest earlier this year, the United States began to reexamine topics such as diversity, inclusion, racism and unconscious bias throughout the country. The U.S. Air Force also began opening a dialogue on these topics to improve working relationships and individual mindsets between Airmen.
The importance of these conversations is something the Air Force continues to emphasize.
Brig. Gen. Ronald E. Jolly, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, engineering and force protection director of logistics, made time to talk about his experiences as a Black man in the Air Force, as well as answer questions from Airmen at the Hercules Theatre Aug. 11.
“My brother and I are driving down Interstate 15 in the state of Utah, heading to the airport. I get pulled over,” Jolly said. “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I was driving a fairly nice car and had put the car on cruise control to 55 miles-per-hour. The cop got out of the car and would not answer my question as to why he pulled me over. He finally saw my Department of Defense colonel eagle sticker in the windshield and then proceeded to ask me if this was my car. I said yes and told him I was the installation commander of Hill Air Force Base. The cop said ‘Oh, have a nice day, and eventually told me I was driving 55 miles-per-hour in a 60 miles-per-hour zone.”
Jolly told several stories of negative experiences during his progression through the officer ranks, including the time a fellow Airman told him he couldn’t park in a designated officer parking spot. He also spoke about teaching his three children how to interact with police.
“I told my son, whenever he gets pulled over, be respectful, roll all your windows down, have your license and registration ready and keep your hands on the steering-wheel,” Jolly said. “But I also told him to know his rights. The police don’t have blanket authority to do anything they want.”
When asked how he dealt with unjust situations throughout his career that were racially motivated, Jolly said it took time for him to find the correct method that was professional but still allowed him to maintain his dignity.
“I’ve been in the U.S. Air Force almost 30 years. I’ve grown and matured over the years and have learned how to remove emotion from my decision making and actions,” Jolly said. “It did not happen overnight.”
When he became a squadron commander, he really learned how to incorporate that method of thinking.
“You can’t lead by emotion,” Jolly said. “That doesn’t work. If I would have done that, I would have failed myself and my Airmen.”
As the conversation around race and equal opportunity continues to happen between Airmen, the only mandate he requires of everyone is to be respectful, and to listen and learn from everyone’s experiences.
“These conversations we are having aren’t optional; they have to happen,” Jolly said. “This is about taking care of our Airmen.”
Jolly sat down with Airmen to share his perspective of the conversation that’s been happening around the world, but to also make himself accessible to anyone who had questions or concerns.
“Sharing perspectives is a part of the education process,” Jolly said. “To understand the reality that not everybody is like you, is important. Diversity in the military is vital to our success. It provides us with diversity of thought, and when we have diversity of thought, we make better decisions.”