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Leading with values and diversity

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii --

As one of the first women of East Indian descent to commission in the Air Force, Lt. Col. Harshmir Gill, 713th Combat Operations Squadron Director of Operations (A3), knows what it means to be different and stand out.

“When I first commissioned in 2001, I didn’t see any other women who looked like me in uniform,” Gill said. “I had come across a few gentleman in the beginning, but I didn’t come across women who were of East Indian decent until later in my career, who had joined a few years after.”

Originally, Gill had commissioned as an active-duty space officer, but later transitioned to the Air Force Reserves as an Air Battle Manager (ABM).

Throughout her training and career there have been a few instances when she was mischaracterized due to her culture and standing stereotypes.

“When I went through SERE training, I was the senior ranking officer in my group, because I was retraining,” Gill recalled. “One of the SERE Instructors came up and said, ‘You should not be the senior ranking officer, you’re supposed to be a non-combatant.’ He legitimately thought I was a flight surgeon, not an ABM.”

However, she didn’t allow any assumptions or mischaracterizations to deter her, and instead leaned into the values she grew up with to build rapport with those she works with.

“Respect, kindness, generosity, charity, and integrity means a lot in the Indian culture,” said Gill. “It’s the backbone. I aim to be compassionate and have integrity, because that’s what I want from my fellow Airmen.”

I don’t necessarily want to be known for just being East Indian, I would much rather be recognized for being a good leader, my values and listening to what matters to our Airmen, she explained.

“I think a lot of things are changing, and the Air Force culture is attempting to be more inclusive,” said Gill. “We recognize there's diversity in what we all bring to the table. It's not necessarily the colors of our skin, it's the experiences we bring. There is so much more to diversity which includes having necessary and uncomfortable conversations.

“We need to recognize we are unique but we have one bond that ties us all together – the uniform,” said Gill. “I hope when someone sees me wearing the uniform they recognize there are no limits.”