- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

The Air Force chief of staff has ordered a high-level review of the racial climate inside the chaplain corps in the aftermath of a furor over whether the No. 2 chaplain made a racially offensive remark.

An Air Force inspector general concluded Brig. Gen. Lorraine Potter's remarks were not "wrongfully" discriminatory, an Air Force inspector general concluded. The incident involved an office meeting last fall during which Gen. Potter discussed the qualifications of black chaplains for advancement.

Several black chaplains have challenged the findings and charge that there is a general pattern in the corps of denying top jobs to black chaplains.

In response, Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, has ordered his assistant vice chief of staff to conduct a "climate assessment."

"The assessment will help the chaplain service identify areas leadership needs to address in chaplains' recruitment, accession, assignments, education and promotion opportunities," the Air Force said.

"The assessment is a result of a possible perception within the chaplain service of institutional discrimination toward minority chaplains."

The investigator interviewed the top chaplain, Maj. Gen. William J. Dendinger, as well as chaplains/ colonels who attended a meeting at Bolling Air Force Base the day after Gen. Potter, who is herself black, gained her general's star. The promotion made her the Air Force's first female chaplain to attain that rank.

One chaplain present at the fall 1999 meeting quoted her as saying, "African-American chaplains make good pastors but not good staff officers." Two other chaplains said they heard similar remarks.

But Gen. Dendinger said he did not hear such offensive remarks.

"I think I would have caught on … if there were any sense of prejudice or she harbored any ill feelings toward any particular group," Gen. Dendinger testified, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Times.

Gen. Potter told the investigator she had said she wanted to make sure blacks had proper training before leaving the pulpit for staff jobs.

The report concluded, "Analysis of that testimony using the preponderance of the evidence standard shows that Gen. Potter did not make an unlawful discriminatory remark." "Recall of specific words and context varied greatly between witnesses."

The climate assessment is being headed by Lt. Gen. William Begert, the assistant vice chief.

Said the Air Force: "Air Force unit climate assessments (UCAs) help commanders at all levels assess their organization's equality opportunity and treatment climate … Personnel distribute and collect the UCA survey, conduct personnel interviews, hold small group discussions and consolidate interview findings."

The Air Force said Gen. Ryan will make the final decision on whether to take any action.

Of the service's 592 active-duty chaplains, 78, or 13 percent, are black. The Air Force has 54 chaplains who are colonels. Of those, 3, or 5 percent, are black, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

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