AAFB, community leaders promote diversity at town hall, Native American event

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

On Nov. 19, 2022, the Altus, Oklahoma community partnered with Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to honor Native American Heritage Month at the Jackson County Expo Center with food, dancing, and the celebration of Native American culture.

The event was planned in part by AAFB’s diversity and inclusion task force within the P4 initiative - “Public-Public, Public-Private” - which is meant to build stronger ties between the local populace and the base.

Altus is a town that is not only home to families whose ancestry goes back multi-generations on the Great Western Cattle Trail, but also to a very diverse group of Airmen on and around AAFB. Because of this, base leadership and community leaders came together at a D&I-themed town hall meeting at the Altus Community Center on Oct. 13 to listen to locals and Airmen explain their experiences, both good and bad, in the city they call home.

“We want to make sure Airmen feel like there's a place that they can go and be accepted all around,” said Robert Garrison, mayor of Altus. “Our town is here for the base and our base is here because of the town, and we have to work together to make it as easy as possible for people to live in this town.”

One of the topics that came up was the need for both the base and the community to highlight and celebrate heritage months to honor cultures from across the globe in a more unified way. The efforts began in the fall with Hispanic Heritage month, when the D&I task force partnered with local schools to create activities that children of every age could get involved with.

For the month of November, though, the task force and community wanted to go bigger.

“One of the things we focused on is how to ensure the heritage month celebrations are getting the proper attention from the community, the base, and the schools.” said Brian Bush, chairman of the diversity and inclusion task force and 97th AMW resident advocate. “With Native American Heritage month, we were excited to partner with the community and get a chance to really celebrate those cultures.”

The event was held in the Jackson County Expo Center and hosted people from all over Oklahoma. Chief Jason Goodblanket of the Cheyenne Tribe commenced the festivities and the Comanche Nation Youth Dancers performed several dances to the beat of the drums in the center of the room.

“This is not a one time event,” said Bush. “This is the beginning of an ongoing discussion. We’re already talking about when we will plan another one of these events and how we keep this conversation going."