Study finds enlisted Asian Airmen are least likely to get in trouble and Blacks the most

Kadena Security Forces host "Jail and Bail" fundraiser U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Alexander Hainen and Dominic Flores, 18th Security Forces Squadron response force member and leader, arrest Airman 1st Class Jamal Jordan, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, as part of a "Jail and Bail" fundraiser Sept. 30, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lauren Snyder)

A recent study conducted by the federally funded think tank Rand Corp. revealed significant racial disparities within the Air Force’s junior enlisted ranks concerning nonjudicial punishment or court-martial.

According to the report released on April 10, Black men in these ranks are 86% more likely than their White counterparts to face such disciplinary actions.

The study highlighted several factors contributing to these divergent experiences, including an airman’s job, Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score, and hometown. These variables can influence the likelihood of an airman facing criminal charges or disciplinary measures.

Researchers admitted difficulty in pinpointing the exact reasons behind why Black airmen are more frequently in trouble, suggesting potential unfair treatment as a plausible explanation for the observed differences.

This report adds to a series of studies examining racial disparities within the military, particularly within its justice system. Previous investigations, including those conducted after the racially-motivated nationwide civil unrest of 2020, have consistently highlighted obstacles faced by Black airmen, minorities, and women in their careers, hindering their opportunities for advancement and sense of belonging in uniform.

Rand’s study focused on airmen in the ranks of E-1 through E-4, where disciplinary actions are more common. It analyzed Air Force discipline and personnel data from fiscal years 2010 through 2019, considering racial disparities in nonjudicial punishments (Article 15s) and court-martial referrals.

For instance, the study noted that certain career fields, such as Security Forces, tend to impose harsher consequences for infractions like falling asleep on duty, with Black airmen more likely to occupy such positions.

Variables like marital status, AFQT scores, waivers, education, training issues, previous punishments, and marijuana legality in an airman’s state were also examined to understand differential treatment between Black and White airmen.

The report’s key findings include such details as:

  • Black junior enlisted airmen were 71% more likely to receive Article 15s or court-martial referrals compared to their White counterparts.
  • Similar disparities existed for American Indian, native Alaskan, and Hispanic airmen, while Asian airmen were less likely to face such actions.
  • Black airmen referred to court-martial were less likely to be convicted and received lower sentences than White counterparts.
  • One-fifth of disparities could be explained by career field differences and other variables, while four-fifths lacked a definitive explanation, suggesting possible disparate treatment.

This study coincides with efforts within the Pentagon to address racism in the military and promote diversity among its ranks. While the Department of the Air Force’s active duty component is predominantly White, initiatives aim to improve equity and inclusivity across all services.

While AFQT scores and prior trouble may partially account for racial disparities in disciplinary actions, the study emphasizes the significant influence of an airman’s background and job assignment within the military hierarchy.

Rand also cited a 2020 Department of Air Force report to claim it was possible that airmen may have a stronger bond with their supervisors or commanders when they are the same race.

“[Airmen] might be more likely to share mitigating circumstances related to their offense. Because the majority of supervisors and commanders are White, this will disadvantage minority airmen. Evidence of this form of disparate treatment was documented in the DAF IG report in which airmen stated that when individuals were late to work, White airmen were more likely to be asked if they were okay, whereas Black airmen would be disciplined (DAF IG, 2020).”

Conversely, Asian Airmen seemed to avoid disciplinary actions more than any other demographic, despite often having White commanders.

When compared to the military, the recorded disciplinary actions are not too far removed from per capita demographic-populated data on a national level when it comes to arrests, crime, and incarceration rates.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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