Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., sign with the main gate in the background.

Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., sign with the main gate in the background. (Brad Fallin/U.S. Air Force)

An Air Force investigation into a photo of text messages that showed a Black airman at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., was denied a job because of his shaving waiver found the messages were fake, base officials said.

The messages were shared widely on social media five months ago and written about by several news outlets.

The 56th Fighter Wing at the base initiated the investigation in May after a photo of a text message conversation between an airman seeking a job and another airman was posted to a Facebook page popular with Air Force members known as “Air Force amn/nco/snco.”

The messages showed the Black airman was being denied an additional duty as his unit’s fitness assessment cell because he had a shaving waiver.

"The 56th Fighter Wing has concluded its investigation into reports that an airman was denied a special duty assignment by their supervisor based upon their demographic identity. Following an exhaustive investigation, authorities determined that the statements published did not occur and the text messages were fake. The 56 FW has a zero-tolerance policy on acts of discrimination,” said Sean Clements, spokesman for the wing.

He did not provide any additional information.

A person who spoke on condition of anonymity five months ago about the situation said Thursday that the investigation speaks for itself.

The Air Force inspector general released a report in 2020 that confirmed racial disparity exists for Black service members when it comes to leadership opportunities and professional miliary education development, among other areas. The report also said Black service members have reported being a target for discrimination because of personal appearance, including hair and grooming standards, such as shaving.

Waivers to forgo daily shaving are more common among Black men because they are more likely to have a skin condition that is exacerbated by shaving.

A similar situation was reported in 2017 when racist graffiti was found at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs, Colo. One of the Black cadets targeted by the graffiti later admitted to writing it.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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