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Commander, Naval Air Forces Hosts 2nd Annual DEI Summit

09 November 2022

From Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sara Eshleman

CORONADO, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2022) – Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) hosted the 2nd annual CNAF Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Summit Nov. 1-2, 2022 in Coronado, Calif.
CORONADO, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2022) – Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) hosted the 2nd annual CNAF Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Summit Nov. 1-2, 2022 in Coronado, Calif. 

Ally-ship, which was the theme for the event, is a call to action for the Naval aviation community to consciously advocate for others, embrace and support differences and communicate respectfully to achieve the inclusion of every group.  

"You’re wearing wings, you’re wearing flight suits,” said Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, Commander, Naval Air Forces. “We’ve all gone through the training...we are warfighting professionals. If we keep focused on that and make advances in areas that have been blind to us in the past, we’ll be a much better service."

The purpose of the summit was to implement DEI concepts into the framework of the Naval Aviation Enterprise through the following three primary objectives: Providing a broad understanding of DEI concepts to enhance operational readiness and support warfighting excellence, establishing DEI feedback loops for fleet and senior leadership discussions and to build force resilience, and providing tangible tools to implement DEI core competencies in the workplace.

Approximately 330 Naval Aviators and guests attended the two-day event. Day one featured a host of civilian and military guest speakers including Dr. Mona Armijo, DEI Officer, Naval Special Warfare; Lt. Elizabeth Elrod, 21st Century Sailor Office (OPNAV N17); U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dr. Chavesco Cook, founder, Military Mentors; and retired U.S. Naval Officers Alan Greer, Dr. Roy Nafarrete, Reuben Green, and Dr. John Cordle. The morning began with a personal video message from Adm. Lisa Franchetti, Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

“Through this conference, we are reaffirming that all members of the Naval Aviation community are responsible to advocate for each other, to embrace and support differences, and to work to create an inclusive environment for each person on our teams,” said Franchetti. “Our force is a reflection of America, and the rich fabric our nation offers; the talent we need to deliver warfighting advantage. Today’s theme of ally-ship is a key enabler for building inclusive teams.”

Day two of the summit presented a dynamic, interactive environment, fostering open discussion between the audience and a women’s panel, a men’s panel, and a flag panel. One of the flag panelists, Rear Adm. Brett Mietus, director, OPNAV N17, formed a metaphor for diversity from his perspective as a former Naval Academy football player.

“One of the things I’ve learned by playing football was – teams matter,” said Mietus. “So, for me, what ally-ship means is that if I’m going to have the audacity to lead, then I have to be bold in bringing people into the team. It is being active. It is recognizing that not everyone is going to walk in and feel like they’re part of the team, and my job from the leadership perspective is to bring them in.”

Earlier in the summit during a discussion session, a suggestion had been made that by including junior officers in interactions they would not normally participate in, such as commander’s conferences, senior leadership could be made aware of the current needs of their juniors and aide in creating a more inclusive environment. The flag panel volunteered a vacant seat to a junior officer in attendance, and Lt. j.g. Madison Bergethon, assigned to the “Airwolves” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 40, was able to join the panel.

“I’ve absolutely had allies and I have been the person who needed to be stood up to and I have been the person that has stood up for someone else,” said Bergethon. “I think that coming to this summit last year and being here again has allowed me to reflect on a lot of that and going into my first Fleet tour, ready to bring that with me.”

Bergethon recounted a pivotal moment in her career where she benefitted from an ally. She had not been exposed to aviation before her military career, and as a brand-new student, she required extra instruction to keep pace with her classmates. Her dedicated primary instructor provided guidance and mentorship to her along the way.

“Doing that, he took a really big risk,” said Bergethon. “He was a guy and I was a girl. We spent a lot of time together in situations where people were starting to say, ‘hey, this might not be kosher, this might not be good,’ but he stood up and said, ‘listen, we do not have an inappropriate relationship, I am her instructor, and she is my student, and we are getting through this together…I look at that as the first time I had had an educational experience where I didn’t have to worry about what my gender meant to my instructor, and what it meant to the people looking at me in that environment.”

Following the panels, Whitesell hosted a town hall discussion with the summit’s attendees.

“Your chances of being in conflict are more than the chances I’ve had in 37 years,” said Whitesell. “So the courage that you had to sign up, the courage that you had to train for the sake of your platform, the desire that you’ve made by your presence here today to make Naval Aviation better, no matter how small or how large the issue is, will move the football down the field. These two conferences [2021/2022] are where we have moved the football more than anything else in Naval Aviation, so I’m very proud of you.”

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