JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MARYLAND —
“I’ve seen first lady Melania Trump a couple of times, and I’ve seen President Trump quite a few times," says Staff Sergeant Tuan Nguyen.
The Vietnamese-American is an airman at Joint Base Andrews, the base that serves U.S. leaders, including the president and members of his Cabinet.
“At any moment you turn on the TV," says Tech Sergeant Vanessa Schook, a flight attendant at Andrews, "and whatever is going on in the news, one of our crew members are either picking that passenger up or taking them there.”
Born in Colombia, South America, Shook moved to Florida as a child and says she became an American citizen after joining the military. While the issue of immigration might hit close to home, she puts politics aside.
“We’re all here to support and defend the Constitution, and he is our commander in chief,” she says.
It’s a sentiment heard across the base.
“The military is not like any other employer," says Senior Airman Andrew Sager. "We’re a family. We have to come together on a level that, at most normal jobs, people don’t.”
Tom Mahoney, an equal opportunity specialist on base, says diversity has made the force stronger since he joined decades ago, and he now works to address discrimination on the base.
“We see it every now and again," says Mahoney. "Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. We know it’s out there. There’s an undercurrent typically.”
Mahoney says the base of 12,000 troops sees roughly five-to-10 complaints of discrimination each year, with racial discrimination ranking third, after retribution and ageism.
At the base’s chapel, Major Crystal Jones says remnants of discrimination still exist because for years racism often went undiscussed.
“There is still the 'good old boys' network, and that is normally the good old white boys network,” says Jones.
Jones says she addresses incidents when they happen, as when a young white male airman didn’t salute her when she was a young officer.
"And I addressed him about it and he was like, ‘Oh I didn’t realize you were an officer. I’ve never seen a black woman officer before.’"
When it comes to racial discrimination, Jones says there is a lot more awareness today of what she calls “the way things really are.”
“I think there was a time in our country and our communities where it just wasn’t talked about," she says. "Race wasn’t talked about. Now we are living through a time where everybody is talking about it, and so we’re having an opportunity really to work some things out.”
In the wake of years of race riots from turmoil across the country, the military has been very vocal about treating each other with respect, which the Air Force Academy superintendent emphasized to cadets.
"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told them.
And at the president’s base, Tech Sgt Naim Singleton is proud of the military’s stance when it comes to race-related issues.
"Myself just for being African American, my wife is Caucasian, I couldn’t be a part of the Air Force if I didn’t think they had a policy of zero tolerance,” Singleton says.
And as a father to a young biracial daughter, he says it’s important that his base set an example for future generations, so that she’ll be judged by her character rather than her racial background.