MacDill airmen share feedback on day-long pause to discuss extremism

The 6th Air Refueling Wing participated in a Department of Defense directed stand-down to discuss extremism on March 26.
The Dale Mabry entrance of Macdill Air Force Base is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Tampa. 
The Dale Mabry entrance of Macdill Air Force Base is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Tampa.  [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published April 9, 2021|Updated April 9, 2021

TAMPA — Airmen requested clarifications on what they should and shouldn’t post on social media. They called for more morale and team-building events. They discussed the readiness of local military and civilian leaders to address issues of extremism.

That was some of the feedback gathered when the 6th Air Refueling Wing of MacDill Air Force Base participated in a one-day Department of Defense-directed pause on regular duties March 26 on the topic of extremism.

On Feb. 5, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed commanding officers and supervisors at all levels of the military to set aside a day within the 60 days that followed to discuss extremism within the ranks. Leaders were given discretion to tailor the discussions but also given some guidance, such as discussing the department’s oath of office and what it means.

At MacDill, the day involved closing facilities, such as the on-base clinic, limited staffing at locations such the visitor center and stopping military training flights.

In a summary of feedback following the day, the majority of participants said they weren’t personally affected by or aware of extremism in the ranks, according to an email from wing spokesman Lt. Christopher Thibeaux-Moore. The few who said they knew of possible cases said they were from other bases, and that their command and law enforcement leaders addressed the issue.

The majority said that community leaders here and elsewhere are well prepared to respond to extremist activities, although some expressed that they felt as though not enough action and measures had taken place to address extremist groups.

Something else that came through the feedback for Col. Benjamin Jonsson, the 6th Air Refueling Wing commander, was the importance of building a culture of connectedness, such as having service members get to know more about each other’s lives and personal experiences, Jonsson said.

He explained how when people get socially isolated they can be more vulnerable to being pulled into extremism.

“As we build that connectivity, that human-to-human connection and culture of connection to each other in our common purpose, I believe it helps ward off those extremist forces,” he added.

In their feedback, airmen recommended doing more social gatherings, small group discussions and training on diversity, inclusion and extremism patterns to build up unit cohesion.

Jonsson echoed other military leaders in saying that the overwhelming majority of military service members “are patriots who are committed to our constitution and to their oath, and to not being pulled in extremist directions.”

Yet he recognizes that there were people with military affiliation or previous military service who were part of the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

“Our message as a department and as a military, to include here at MacDill, is that there’s no place for advancing extremist ideologies or behaviors within our ranks because of the detrimental impact they have on our mission effectiveness and on our people,” Jonsson said.