Top General Solicits More Diverse Applicants for Air Force Thunderbirds

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds / AP

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds / AP


A top Air Force general wrote an email last month complaining that the applicant pool to open positions with the Air Force Thunderbirds is not diverse enough.

In the email, posted online to the site John Q. Public, Brig. Gen. Christopher Short, the 57th Wing Commander at Nellis Air Force Base, asked fighter wing commanders to help him find more potential applicants who “don’t necessarily look like each of you.” Short said that 14 of the 15 applicants for three openings in the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, often called the Thunderbirds, are white men.

“While we have several qualified candidates that many of you submitted, I am lacking the depth in talent we’ve seen in previous years and I am lacking in diversity of gender, ethnicity, and MDS background,” Short wrote.

Short, whose wing commands the Thunderbirds, appealed to wing commanders to find new applicants who are more diverse in gender and ethnicity.

“As you look out at your wings, I’d also ask you to look at those pilots that may have the ability to reach our audiences that don’t necessarily look like each of you,” he wrote.

“I don’t expect a huge push of diverse applicants, primarily because our pool isn’t very diverse. But I need talent on the team as well, and some of the 15 applicants just don’t have the depth of record of our typical competitive applicant. I am hoping you have one or two you can engage and discuss the impact they could have on our Air Force by becoming a Thunderbird pilot.”

Short cited former Thunderbird pilot Caroline “Blaze” Jensen’s career as evidence of how a more diverse group of demonstration pilots allows the Air Force to reach a larger group of people.

“I had several AF officers who wrote that their daughters, who had shown no interest in the AF, were now considering after seeing/talking to Blaze–one said she now wanted to be a Thunderbird,” Short wrote.

“Being a female pilot allowed her to make connections none of the other pilots were able to do. While she brought a different gender demographic–she was also a reservist–she earned her position on the team and, like each of the team members, did an amazing job representing our AF.”

In addition to the lack of diversity, Short also complained about the decline in applications for the Thunderbirds squad in recent years.

“This is the second time I’ve had to get out for additional applicants. Last year, several of the last minute applicants became finalists, so I am hoping that with your help we can increase the size and depth of the pool,” Short said.

“Additionally, this may be less a ‘you’ issue and more of a ‘me’ issue.  If you have insights on why we are not getting the number of traditional applicants, I’d love to hear.  The challenge cuts across many MDS on the team, so I think it is a reflection of a slightly tired force–but there may be other factors I’m missing.”

A spokesman for the Nellis Air Force Base told the Washington Times that it was “too early” to discuss the composition for next year’s Thunderbirds team when asked if Short had succeeded in attracting more applicants.

Morgan Chalfant   Email Morgan | Full Bio | RSS
Morgan Chalfant is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, Morgan worked as a staff writer at Red Alert Politics. She also served as the year-long Collegiate Network fellow on the editorial page at USA TODAY from 2013-14. Morgan graduated from Boston College in 2013 with a B.A. in English and Mathematics. Her Twitter handle is @mchalfant16.

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