Interview: AFNWC executive director says embrace diversity

  • Published
  • By Aimee Malone
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
Learning from others and embracing diversity are key to successful cooperation in the workplace, said Joseph Oder, executive director of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, during a recent interview for Hispanic Heritage Month.
As the executive director, Oder advises the AFNWC commander in managing all aspects of the center’s mission to deliver nuclear capabilities warfighters use every day to deter our adversaries and assure our allies and partners. As part of his duties, he also serves on multiple Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Accessibility councils, sharing his experiences perspective both as a person of Hispanic heritage and an Air Force senior leader.
Oder grew up in southern Arizona as the sixth of seven children. His mother, who was born in Mexico, was also one of seven children, so he was used to large family gatherings while growing up. He and his family would frequently visit his grandmother in Nogales, Mexico.
“My Hispanic culture was a very positive experience for me growing up,” Oder said. “I had great relatives. We spent lots of time together. For me, integrating my Hispanic culture into who I am was very easy. It allowed me to have a base for my value system, whether it came from my family, my culture, or my faith.”
It also provided him with a community. That sense of community has helped him throughout his life, including his career.
“When I first applied for the Air Force Academy, there was a Hispanic community in Arizona that helped me with my application,” he said. “Having a group of people who are willing to mentor you is important regardless of where the community comes from.”
He said that while he knows others have had different experiences, he’s never seen his Hispanic heritage as a barrier. His background has always been a strength.
“It's given me a perspective on how important it is for different cultures to come together and bring who they are to the Air Force,” Oder said.
One of the challenges he said he thinks people face today is learning to listen and understand people with unfamiliar cultures and experiences instead of allowing preconceived notions to shape their thinking.
“The social environment in the United States is different now than it was when I graduated high school, and that is largely a consequence of both the 24-hour media cycle and social media,” Oder said.
“Don't get into the echo chamber,” he said. “Don't be told how to think about a group or an individual. Instead, really think about how I can bring who I am and encourage other people to bring who they are to help the Air Force mission be successful.”
People should be ready to learn from everyone they encounter, he said, because everyone has unique experiences and different points of view.
“Whether it's gender, whether it's ethnicity, whether it's race, whether it’s what you experienced, what school you went to, what part of the country you grew up in, or what part of the world you grew up in, all of these experiences build us into who we are,” he said. “It's important for you to bring who you are to the Air Force because it's that diversity of experience that helps us to get better ideas, and more thoughts, and bring solutions to the challenges that we face.”
Learning from others’ experiences is really the point of DEIA initiatives at every level, he said. Fostering understanding helps the Air Force recruit talented workers and ensures that everyone can succeed, which only strengthens the Air Force’s ability to complete its mission.
“That's really the value of this diversity piece,” Oder said. “It's not ‘blending’ us. It's pulling together a team that's giving everybody a chance, an environment where they can safely present their thoughts and ideas. Those thoughts and ideas can help us drive better solutions to these critical challenges that we face.”