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Air Force updates song lyrics to be more inclusive; 2 female Fairchild officers praise the changes

UPDATED: Tue., March 3, 2020

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein participate in a sit down discussion during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium, in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2020. The three-day event is a professional development forum that offers the opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches, seminars and workshops with defense industry professionals. (Wayne Clark / U.S. Air Force)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein participate in a sit down discussion during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium, in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2020. The three-day event is a professional development forum that offers the opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches, seminars and workshops with defense industry professionals. (Wayne Clark / U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Air Force service members will hum along and head off into the wild blue yonder more inclusively, following changes to the lyrics of the military branch’s alma mater.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein approved the changes to “reflect all of us and who we aspire to be,” he said at a military symposium in Florida this week. Goldfein remembered how the lyrics clashed when the song was played after the Air Force Academy’s women’s volleyball team won a tournament at the Pentagon. He also realized how the Naval Academy and West Point had updated their alma maters in 2004 and 2008.

“We sung our third verse of the Air Force song,” which serves as the academy’s school song and included the words, “A toast to the host of the men we boast,” Goldfein said in a statement. “It was very clear to me it was an exclusive song … Not intentionally, it was written at a different time. But it was exclusive. And the energy of that team couldn’t have been lower. It was just wrong.”

Goldfein approved the changes Thursday and announced them to more than 2,000 airmen, industry officials and retirees during a joint appearance with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.

Two female airmen stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base reacted to the change with pride.

“It speaks to, and says a lot about, the people in charge of our Air Force,” said Chief of Public Affairs Capt. Tanya Downsworth. They noticed “this huge part of Air Force tradition didn’t have the same audience.”

Downsworth said she decided to join the Air Force six years ago while pursuing an art degree at Central Washington University. Her goals changed when she was home during Thanksgiving break and her parents, both former Air Force airmen, started talking about the military branch’s sense of community and the possibility of working in public affairs. Downsworth, a photographer who later joined ROTC at CWU, said she was excited about combining creativity with military service.

She said she feels lucky to have not faced gender discrimination in the Air Force, especially in pay equality and paid family leave.

“Women are breaking barriers all the time in different career fields,” she said.

Downsworth said she had to digest the changes at first, because it meant revising a longtime tradition.

“But at some point you have to update those traditions,” said Downsworth, who hadn’t previously thought about the Air Force song lyrics being exclusive toward women. “You have to include all of your team.”

Master Sgt. Myra Staton, commandant of Fairchild’s Airman Leadership School, said she’s seen the Air Force take many substantive steps toward promoting diversity in her nearly 14 years of service, and especially in the last few years. She said young airmen are encouraged to unleash their diverse talents.

“Something that really sticks out is how (Air Force leaders) talk about how we need the right people in the right place at the right time,” Staton said. “We really embrace the diversity of the people on our team.”

The Air Force is among the most gender diverse military branches, with women making up about 20% of both enlisted service members and officers, according to Department of Defense data.

Goldfein said he’s open to further revisions to the Air Force song.

“I want to open a conversation here, which I hope to have over the next few months about whether we also want to update the first verse,” he said.

“It’s part of who we are and I personally think it’s time to update that to reflect all of us,” Goldfein continued.

Goldfein said he had conversations with male and female airmen, then cadets came up with the changes to the third verse. He said his decision was also informed by his experience in warfare and visiting graves of fallen airmen at the Arlington National Cemetery.

“Side by side, there were men and women. Combat is like that. Combat doesn’t discriminate and neither should we,” he said.

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