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Navy to change pilot call sign protocol after discrimination reports

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11 launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rebekah A. Watkins/Released)
May 22, 2019

The Navy plans to implement a new aviator call sign process following complaints of discriminatory call signs.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in a letter earlier this month that he had ordered a new protocol to be implemented in 90 days for assigning and reviewing call signs, Military.com first reported Tuesday.

The Chief of Naval Air Training will establish the new protocol, along with a peer review board that includes minority and female representation.

The order was sparked by complaints from two minority aviators-in-training who claimed they were discriminated against due to biased and disrespectful pilot trainers in Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 out of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, a storyline Military.com began reporting on back in April 2018.

The two aviators, Navy pilot Lt. Courtland Savage and an anonymous Marine Corps pilot, waged complaints after they were dismissed from VFA-106 in 2017 due to “substandard performance,” Military.com said.

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Upon review, Miller found that the two aviators-in-training were not treated “with appropriate dignity and respect,” were given discriminatory call signs, and were the subject of inappropriate social media conversation, according to Military.com.

Savage was given a call sign of “Radio,” the same name of a mentally impaired African American man portrayed in a movie of the same name, Military.com said, adding that other African American aviators-in-training received call signs like “8 Ball” and “Kazaam,” while one commander’s call sign was “Snoop” and a lieutenant’s call sign was “Ruby Rhod” – all in reference to a real or fictitious African American figures.

In a group chat used by trainees and instructors, Military.com said they were reportedly “disparaged” personally and professionally.

Savage has since separated from the Navy and works for a civilian airline, while the Marine Corps pilot is still on active duty piloting C-130s.

Both were determined to be struggling trainees who needed additional attention to overcome challenges and would likely not be reconsidered for fighter training despite the biases and misconduct identified, Military.com pointed out.

Miller ordered the VFA-106 to undergo social media responsibility training, as well as diversity training to identify and avoid bias and stereotypes. He intends to apply the same training as a routine part of training courses for commanding and executive officers.

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“I intend to invite [the two aviators] to assist in the development of the training curriculum,” he wrote in his letter, as reported by Military.com. “While it is not the responsibility of these officers to create the solution for the unprofessional and offensive behavior they experienced, it is my hope these officers understand the sincerity of our commitment in addressing unprofessional behavior and will want to join us in this corrective action.”