Project Quesada: 4th Fighter Wing supports diversity, inclusion initiatives

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rachel Waller
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“We maintain and enhance force readiness and develop the capabilities we need to protect America when we fully embrace a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and thought,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. 

The 4th Fighter Wing has hosted and participated in various events targeting diverse and underrepresented groups to promote and expose youths and young adults to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers as well as provide aviation inspiration mentorship (AIM) since 2020.

Additionally, the 4th FW supports Air Combat Command’s recently announced Project Quesada, which aims to identify opportunities for Hispanic Serving Institutions and other Minority Serving Institutions for STEM opportunities.

“In terms of resources, the people are what enable us to accomplish the mission,” said Andrea Contratto, Air Combat Command chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We should be deliberately inclusive for all our communities.”

4th FW hosts career panels, round tables with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

In 2020, the 4th FW established a partnership with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Since then, active-duty Airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base have visited the campus numerous times to host career panels and round tables for Air Force ROTC cadets with various career fields represented to include intelligence, judge advocate, air crew and pilots.

More than 85 percent of the students who attend NC A&T are from underrepresented minority groups such as African American, Hispanic and Native American.

In March 2022, the cadets visited the base and were afforded hands-on experience with the base fire department and combat arms training and maintenance instructors. They also got to see various sides of aircraft maintenance as they toured an F-15E Strike Eagle, all to help expose the future officers to different career paths available in the Air Force. 

Diversity is about finding, recruiting, developing, and retaining the best talent in America, specifically those that may have been overlooked.

“There is a gap in the individual cadet interests and what they have access to, such as a lack of mentors and resources when making a military service commitment,” said Chief Master Sgt. Chaunda Wharton, 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron senior enlisted leader. “As active-duty members, we are unofficial recruiters for the U.S. Air Force. Through this forum we are able to offer our knowledge, experience and influence the next generation or potential Airmen.”

“It’s important to be exposed to multiple different career fields,” said ROTC Cadet Langston Kelly, NC A&T detachment 605 wing commander. “Learning about career fields and how they interact with each other and how we will interact with them in the future is what I took away most from this experience.”

4th FW teams with Air Force Global Strike Command for Strive 4th, Project Tuskegee

Strive 4th, a Project Tuskegee and AIM initiative, was an opportunity for the base to work with local Wayne County students as well as local Air Force ROTC and Junior ROTC detachments to provide them a look into the missions of the 4th FW and the 916th Air Refueling Wing, as well as aviation and STEM programs.

Aimed at increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups within local communities and Air Force ROTCs, Project Tuskegee is an initiative and partnership established by Air Force Global Strike commander, Gen. Anthony Cotton, and Tuskegee University.

AFGSC looked at different bases across the Air Force, specifically targeting ones that had a large diverse local population. The local community of Goldsboro and surrounding areas housed such diversity, and the 4th FW was presented the opportunity to host AFGSC and Project Tuskegee with Strive 4th.

“We had multiple different stations on the flight line with two main focuses, which were three static displays accompanied with crew and maintainers, which included an F-15E, a B-1B Lancer and a KC-46A Pegasus,” says Capt. Paige Burnette, 4th Force Support Squadron sustainment services flight commander.

Participants included 11 Wayne County middle schools, the Wayne School of Technical Arts, one computer science club from a local high school, two Civil Air Patrol squadrons and three Air Force ROTC detachments.

Although Strive 4th was mainly a diversity and STEM outreach event, it also provided a slew of inclusion opportunities that aren’t normally available.

“During Strive 4th, there was a middle school student who was wheel-chaired bound and wasn’t able to walk up the stairs to go into the KC-46 like everyone else,” recalled Master Sgt. Ayoka Francis, 4th FW D&I program manager. “But there were four Airmen who carried her on her wheelchair up the steps so she could have the same experience as the other students. Although she won’t be able to join the Air Force, she got to have the same experience just like her classmates, I had to turn around so I wouldn’t cry.”

4th FW looks to the future

“Project Quesada is something we’ll focus on in the next year and continuing our historically black colleges and universities partnerships,” said Francis. “We’ll definitely look to expand into other universities near the base.”

The 4th FW will continue to introduce aviation and STEM-related careers to underrepresented groups surrounding the base as diversity will bring more qualified applicants to the Air Force.

(Editor’s note: Tech. Sgt. Emili Koonce, Senior Airmen Kimberly Barrera and Kylie Barrow contributed to this article.)