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Diversity soars to new heights: ANG chief leads change for enlisted aviator height policy

U.S. Air Force Capt. Megan E. Burk, of the 413th Test Squadron, performs tasks during an anthropometric accommodation evaluation on the MH-139A Grey Wolf at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in August 2020. This study is part of a multi-agency effort to create the first anthropometric entry standards for U.S. Air Force career enlisted aviators. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Megan E. Burk, of the 413th Test Squadron, performs tasks during an anthropometric accommodation evaluation on the MH-139A Grey Wolf at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in August 2020. This study is part of a multi-agency effort to create the first anthropometric entry standards for U.S. Air Force career enlisted aviators. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher L. Dawson, the Career Enlisted Aviator career field manager, Air National Guard, conducts a pre-flight inspection on a CV-22 Osprey at the 150th Special Operations Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Sept. 24, 2020. Dawson is leading a multi-agency effort to create the first anthropometric entry standards for U.S. Air Force career enlisted aviators. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher L. Dawson, the Career Enlisted Aviator career field manager, Air National Guard, conducts a pre-flight inspection on a CV-22 Osprey at the 150th Special Operations Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Sept. 24, 2020. Dawson is leading a multi-agency effort to create the first anthropometric entry standards for U.S. Air Force career enlisted aviators. (Courtesy Photo)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD -- In wake of the Air Force removing pilot height requirements in 2020, an Air National Guard chief is leading a multi-agency effort to create the first anthropometric—or body measurement—standards for U.S. Air Force career enlisted aviators.

“The Career Enlisted Aviator career field is comprised of 10 specialties that operate on 32 different Air Force airframes,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Dawson, the ANG CEA career field manager. “CEAs could be anything from an inflight refueling specialist, loadmaster, flight attendant, even sensor operators on remotely piloted aircraft. Their functional duties in the aircraft cover a broad range.”

Before taking to the skies as enlisted aircrew, applicants must first meet body composition requirements. Under the legacy policy, all CEA applicants must be within a standing height of 64 inches to 77 inches (5’4” to 6’5”).

“The CEA height policy follows the 1967 pilot standard… which was based off of the population of pilots at that time, predominately male, sitting at a control station,” said Dawson. “But CEAs are different than pilots. Many CEAs move throughout the aircraft while working. So, this policy does not reflect the actual requirements and does not create an accurate safety standard.”

Though this mandate has undergone scrutiny for many years in the career field, Dawson credits the keen eye of his predecessor for identifying the necessary data to prompt change.

“Chief Master Sgt. Kurt Uchimura was the ANG CEA career field manager before me, and he was the one who noticed a pattern. The majority of phone calls and emails about ineligible candidates were female,” said Dawson. “That’s when he reached out to the Diversity and Inclusion Office at the Air National Guard Readiness Center to ask why.”

According to a 2019 report by ANG Diversity and Inclusion, the current CEA height requirement eliminates about 43.5% of U.S. females, with a significant number being minority females.

“Over the years, this policy has eliminated a large portion of talent and has contributed to a CEA readiness problem,” said Dawson. “Ultimately, Chief Uchimura’s discovery gave a tangible reason for the Air Force to consider revising this standard.”

In the fall of 2019, Dawson took over as ANG CEA CFM and charted this initiative by bringing together key agencies to brainstorm. To accelerate change further, Dawson partnered with and became a member of the Women’s Initiative Team, an all-volunteer women’s advocacy group for the Air Force, in January.

After months of perseverance by Dawson, his team, and the WIT, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions granted $4 million in July 2020 to begin a comprehensive study to determine appropriate standards for each CEA specialty.

“Safety standards are essential and we must know what standards are required to safely accomplish CEA duties,” said Dawson. “This study will remove diversity barriers and create a standard that really matters.”

During the study, a team of engineers from the Airman’s Accommodations Laboratory will measure various body compositions and compare that data to enlisted aviator tasks on every airframe.

“Talent lives in all forms and, by not artificially limiting someone based on an outdated standard, we will be able to put the most skilled Airmen in the role,” said Dawson. “This change will open the aperture for CEA applicants, increase our diversity and make us a more innovative, more ready, more lethal force.”

The first aircraft study was completed in August 2020 on the MH-139A Grey Wolf. With one aircraft study scheduled to take place, on average, every month, the fleet-wide evaluation is on target to be completed in fall 2022.

“Although there have been some recent quick-wins with interim CEA entry standards, the fidelity that this study provides will cement a path to readiness,” said Dawson. “It is essential that we take the time and resources to modernize. Additionally, pilot anthropometric measurements will also be reviewed during the CEA study, so both officers and enlisted will benefit.”

After nearly 22 years of military service, Dawson states that his involvement in revitalizing CEA height policy is the most meaningful project of his career. He credits the support of his team and family for the mission’s overall success.

“As a father of two young ladies, with a successful working spouse, a fiercely independent grandmother, and several influential female figures throughout my career, this projects takes on a special meaning,” said Dawson. “To my team and the WIT, this couldn’t have been done without you.”

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