FARGO, N.D. — A “three-day journey” led more than 30 North Dakota National Guardsmen blindfolded across a stack of chairs, elevated through a web of string and, more importantly, to a deeper understanding and enhanced perspective on leading in a diverse environment.
“I think the main thing with this course in particular is that diversity is not just an issue of race or gender or ethnicity, but rather all of the aspects, history and experience of the Soldiers or Airmen in one’s unit,” said Sgt. Christopher Hanson, who serves with the North Dakota National Guard’s 188th Army Band.
Facilitators with Guardian Quest put on the Diversity Champions course for the first time for the North Dakota National Guard from Wednesday through today. Guardsmen traveled from across the state to the Fargo Armed Forces Reserve Center for the challenging course.
“One of the most important reasons we have to talk about diversity is because of the demographic realities of the changes that not only happen in our country, but also on a global scale and forging those relationships abroad,” said Ramon Barboza, one of the course facilitators. “Military leaders and staff can sometimes create conflict, can sometimes create challenges just by simply by not being aware of each other and not understanding each other.”
The course incorporated experiential learning while exploring stereotypes, labels and the value of trust.
“My internal definition of diversity has changed,” said Master Sgt. Shane Amundson, of the 119th Wing. “… It’s really just about embracing everyone’s different backgrounds and experiences and family dichotomy.”
Amundson co-facilitates Basic Leadership Training, a two-day leadership course for Guardsmen, as well as Leadership Development Course, a nine-day class. He said there are techniques from the Diversity Champions course that he hopes to use to further enhance that training.
“What I’m grateful for, with respect to the Army and the Air National Guard, is, one, they see the relevance, the relative importance of what it is that we’re talking about when we talk about diversity and leadership, and, two, it hasn’t been mandated through a crisis; it’s something that they’ve embraced as a necessity just because they’ve realized that when their people get better, their organization will get better, as well,” Barboza said.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about changing people,” he continued. “It’s really just about providing them a different perspective, a different look, another way of thinking about things. So, if you don’t leave our class changed or transformed, perhaps you might just leave with a different perspective or a different understanding.”
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 Soldiers and more than 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, about 150 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that’s more than four times the national average.
High-resolution photos Flickr: Diversity Champions Workshop