A U.S. Air Force airman caught viral attention in May after sharing texts allegedly showing he was passed up for a special assignment because of the color of his skin. Now, Air Force investigators are saying the Airman faked the racist texts, and the airman is facing punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
In May, an unidentified black airman set off concerns about racial discrimination in the service after sharing text messages with Air Force amn/nco/snco, a popular unofficial online meeting place for airmen to often share their problems with the service.
In the text conversation, a superior told the airman “we won’t be sending your name up” for an unspecified special duty assignments. Such assignments can include working as a recruiter or a drill instructor and require service members to volunteer for the positions, according to Military.com.
After receiving the text saying his leaders would not recommend the airman for the special assignment, the airman texted back “Is there a specific reason on to why I cant?”
“We personally do not feel as if you are a good choice for the squadron. You currently have a shaving waiver which isn’t a professional image, and I think the air force is looking for somebody of white complexion and with the image that the air force needs,” came the alleged reply from his superior. “We can talk tomorrow to further discuss.”
After the text conversation appeared online, Task & Purpose reported the messages are what an unnamed white technical allegedly texted the unnamed black senior airman, allegedly assigned to the 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, a unit of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
In the five months since those texts came out, the 56th Fighter Wing has investigated the alleged racist text exchange. On Tuesday, Luke Air Force spokesman Sean Clements told Military.com, “The 56th Fighter Wing has concluded its investigation into reports that an airman was denied a special duty assignment by their supervisor based upon their demographic identity.”
“Following an exhaustive investigation, authorities determined that the statements published did not occur and the text messages were fake,” Clements said.
Clements also told Military.com that the airman is facing punishment under the UCMJ.
Clements noted the airman would be able to appeal his punishment.
The alleged racist text conversation included a mention of the black airman’s shaving waiver. The Air Force has allowed some service members to go without shaving in limited circumstances through waivers. Such waivers have been granted for religious reasons as well as for airmen — and particularly African American men — who often suffer painful ingrown hairs as a result of frequent shaving.
The Air Force recently began considering a pilot program to more clearly allow its members to grow beards. The proposed program was a recommendation made by the Air Force’s Black/African American Employment Strategy Team (BEST).
BEST is one of the Department of the Air Force’s (DAF) Barrier Analysis Working Groups (BAWG), which consider various challenges impacting diversity in the service branches. The Air Force launched BEST in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and riots and fueled national conversations about race.