The Value of the Uniform

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian K. Beauter
  • 423rd Communications Squadron

I love wearing the Air Force uniform.  In fact, I think I was born to wear it.  But it is funny, I was not one of those kids who became enchanted by the sight of a Hollywood actor wearing the uniform in a blockbuster movie, vowing to someday join the Air Force so I too could look cool.  I did grow up in an Air Force family – my dad retired in 1979 as a Master Sergeant – but my love for the uniform did not originate there either.  Likewise, the moment I donned the uniform for the first time at Basic Military Training passed without a second thought.  I do remember thinking how strange and uncomfortable the uniform felt, and how happy I was to finally blend in with the more seasoned flights.  No, my love for the uniform developed over time as I came to understand what it stood for and what it meant to me.

By the time I graduated Basic Training I understood that I was part of a professional and honorable organization – an organization with high standards and even higher expectations for its members.  I had been allowed to enter a world seen by only a small percentage of the U.S. population and the uniform loudly announced this fact.  Perhaps this is when my love affair with the uniform began.  At the time, 1991 to be exact, the Air Force issued the woodland camouflage Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) to new recruits and was in the process of phasing out the Olive Greens (OG).  Personally, I thought the OGs were hideous, so was thrilled to wear the BDUs.  Although I was proud to wear the uniform, I did not take pride in wearing the uniform.  In other words, I met the minimum standards for dress and appearance, never making an effort to really look sharp – I was a “Dirt Boy” in the Civil Engineering Squadron, so looking sharp never crossed my mind.  However, it wasn’t long before I realized that to really make it in the Air Force, you needed to exceed the standards and outperform your peers.  This is when my love for the uniform blossomed. 

By the time I entered Airman Leadership School I was finally taking pride in my uniform.  My weekend routine revolved around preparing my BDUs and boots for Monday morning.  I would soak my blouse and pants in liquid starch on Saturday night and let them stand in the shower to dry overnight.  By Sunday morning my uniform seemed more like cardboard than fabric and could stand on its own.  It would take me about an hour with a screaming hot iron to turn my BDUs into the finest looking uniform on base.  I would then spend an hour on my boots – slowly polishing the black leather with a wet cotton ball and wax until I could see my face in the shine.  Yeah, seems like a lot of time wasted, but it taught me discipline and kept me out of trouble.  On Monday morning, when I donned my uniform with razor sharp creases and boots shining brilliantly, my chest would puff out and a feeling of indestructability would wash over me.  It is corny, but in my mind, it was akin to the moment the meek and humble Clark Kent tears open his button-down shirt to reveal the Superman outfit underneath.  As odd as it sounds, the uniform has come to represent all the skills, experiences and traits I have picked up over the years while in the Air Force, and in wearing it, makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.

The Air Force utility uniform has gone through many changes throughout the years.  BDUs transitioned away from the multitude of sewn on patches to the single aircrew leather patch, and then back again.  BDUs finally gave way to the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) – the first “wash and wear” uniform with limited patches and suede boots that required little to no maintenance.  The transition from the ABU to the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) is in full swing and will bring back some of the heraldry lost over the years while keeping with the “wash and wear” mantra.  Even through these transitions, I think it is safe to say that most Airmen are proud to wear the Air Force uniform, not because of its utilitarianism, but because it represents membership in a highly selective, trusted, and professional organization.  And although the OCPs are easy to maintain, Airmen can still stand out amongst their peers by taking pride in their uniform.  It is about purchasing a uniform that fits well, properly affixing patches, blousing pant legs correctly, and replacing uniform items when they become faded and unserviceable.  I no longer spend hours on Sunday working on my uniform and boots – I only spend about 15 minutes now – but I love the uniform now more than ever and still get that feeling of invincibility as I zip up my jacket on Monday morning.