By Staff Sgt. Jessica Condit
19th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Following a long family tradition of military service, Chief Master Sgt. Eric Rower, the 19th Mission Support Group superintendent, joined active-duty military service Aug. 2, 1985.
Although Rower has not experienced the acts of segregation in his 28-year military career, he has witnessed many other equally important changes that have affected African-Americans during his time.
“What I’ve noticed is more opportunities,” said Rower. “More opportunities are available for African-Americans to move up to the key positions whether they are at the squadron level, wing level or MAJCOM level. From a standpoint of African-Americans in specific, when I first came in I noticed there weren’t as many in the positions that there are today.”
Segregation in the Air Force was resolved in the early 1970s. With the changing Air Force, the Equal Opportunity offices were and still are a key role in assuring Airmen, regardless of race or ethnicity, were treated with respect. Concerted efforts were emphasized by leadership at all bases to ensure equal opportunity was promoted.
Rower also reminisced about his dad telling stories of his military service experience in the Army during the end of World War II. Rower’s father, along with several of his uncles, was in the Army before desegregation.
Before desegregation in the military, most of the positions delegated to African-Americans were behind-the-line cooks and similar jobs, said Rower.
“My father and my uncles were not afforded the same opportunities that I have been afforded in the military today, and that was a reflection on society at the time,” said Rower. “He grew up in a time where racism was strong and the opportunities for minorities just weren’t there.”
Rower emphasizes the point that the military has grown with society. He also points out that the Air Force was one of the first branches of service to provide equal opportunity to all Airmen regardless of race.
“It makes me feel good to be in an Air Force today where everyone is being treated equal,” said Rower. “Everyone is being given a chance to take their abilities as high as they will get them.”
Rower encourages people to always follow their dreams whatever they may be. He said we are in an Air Force now that you can do anything and be anything that you want to be as long as you’re willing to work hard and do the things that are asked of you.
Rower also added that staff sergeants and technical sergeants are pivotal roles to the enlisted force. He said Airmen need to be strong noncommissioned officers and senior NCOs to help guide others through the impending drawdowns and help take the Air Force through the next big change.