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111th ATKW participates in DoD-wide extremism stand down

Image of a red stop sign containing a silhouette of a man laying in the prone position, holding an AK-47 with text that reads, "Extremism Stand down."

Service members and civilians employed by the Department of Defense are is participating in extremism stand downs as directed by U.S Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in early February of 2021. Stand downs provide time for military units to shift focus from operational or alert status, and focus on an important training issue facing the force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Senior Airman Wilfredo Acosta)

BIDDLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Pa. --

The 111th Attack Wing Headquarters conducted a “stand down” here during its regularly scheduled drill on April 12, 2021 as part of the Department of Defense program to combat extremism.

Across the Defense Department, in units large and small, commanders and leaders held stand downs, which were directed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in early February. Stand downs provide time for military units to shift focus from operational or alert status, and focus on an important training issue facing the force.

“In the Pennsylvania Air Guard, we know diversity is a force multiplier that makes our team more efficient and effective, and we’re committed to leveraging it as a strength, not undermining it with hate or intolerance,” said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Regan Jr., the Deputy Adjutant General – Air for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Commander of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. “If an airman in our formation champions ideologies of hate, discrimination, or anti-government violence, it erodes trust among our wingmen and communities, which diminishes our overall effectiveness. Without trust and teamwork, our organization is weakened.”

The overall goal of the 60-day stand down has not been about collecting information from the force, but rather, to reiterate to the force something they all heard the first day of their military or civilian service: the commitment they made to the U.S. military, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby during a briefing last month.

"It was meant to do two things: to reinforce our values and, specifically, the importance of the oath that everyone takes here to the Constitution and what that oath requires of you," said Kirby. "There are active verbs in that oath that matter, and it was a chance to revisit what we've all promised to do, and what we've all promised to serve."

During the stand down and discussion at the 111th ATKW, emphasis was put on the oath that service members take, and Airmen and civilian personnel were encouraged to share their thoughts and personal stories from throughout their careers related to extremism.

“We are a profession of arms and our success, our survival, be it in a deployed environment or at home station, relies on our teamwork,” said Lt. Col. Peter Good, Commander of the 111th Logistics Readiness Squadron, in opening comments. “Discrimination, hate and harassment against others is not tolerated in the DoD, or the unit. This training was about remembering the oath we take and developing trust.”
The stand down was the place of duty for this particular drill day, and all were encouraged to participate in open and honest discussions.

“I think you can look at how effective the training was by how much participation we had in the discussion today,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Zarilla, 1st Sgt. for 111th Attack Wing Headquarters. “We had members asking questions, we had members sharing stories, trying to get that message out there and trying to educate all of us. In the end, we educated ourselves.”

When the extremism stand downs are complete, and the services have confirmed that to the department, what the next steps will be is unclear at this time. What is very clear, Kirby said, is that there will be follow-on efforts.

“Our job is simply too important to risk the trust that strengthens our organization and has earned us the public’s support,” said Regan in a previously recorded statement. “I am confident that our airmen and our Air National Guard civilians believe in and adhere to the oaths they have taken, and will continue to do the right thing and serve with integrity and excellence.”