Oh my god: the Air Force says it’s okay to put your hands in your pockets. Or get a scalp tattoo. Talk on a cell phone while walking. Untuck your PT shirt. Wear morale patches. Roll up your BDU sleeves like a commando. If you’re a woman, you can ditch the pantyhose and go bare-legged in a uniform skirt (but you still have to shave your legs).
Per Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, the new rules foster “standards and culture that maintain our focus on warfighting, while providing options to meet many of the needs of our airmen.”
During my Air Force career, depending on which command I flew for, I’ve seen generals weigh in on whether rolled-up flight suit sleeves were good or evil. Full bird colonels in officers’ club bars ordering pilots to show their socks (black was the only authorized color). Captains dressed down by majors for moustaches.
I chafed at some of those rules. I thought any pilot anywhere should be able to roll up his or her flight suit sleeves and wear socks of any color. When the Navy went back to WWII standards and allowed aviators to wear brown shoes, I felt a stab of jealousy. The Air Force, with its Army roots, didn’t have the brown shoe tradition, but I wished we could go back to the WWII dress uniforms with the Sam Browne belts.
Pilots could get away with minor infractions ground-pounders couldn’t. Airmen in medical specialties seemed to have a different set of rules for hair length. And general officers … well, they could do pretty much whatever they wanted. Who’d tell them they couldn’t? I expect none of that has changed.
The change that gives me pause is the one allowing personnel to talk on cell phones while walking. Why? Because it’ll become an excuse for not saluting or standing at attention during retreat. Yes, I’m enough of a curmudgeon to be bothered by the thought, but since I’m rarely on military installations these days I probably won’t witness it.
Now I’m wondering what the Air Force has to say about personal pronoun preferences. I know it’s trying to strip names and gender information from the personnel files evaluated by promotion boards, but what about everyday use? What if an airman wants to be referred to as e/em, xe/xem, ze/zim, or sie/hir?
And why is it still “airman?”
© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.