22. November 2004 · Comments Off on Rites, Practices and Legends: #12 “Uniform Combinations” · Categories: General, Military

It would seem that the US Air Force is set to perform that once-a-decade spasm of instituting (tah-dah!!!!) a NEW UNIFORM! I am so grateful to have been spared this latest manifestation, having been through no less than five of them— from the cute little WAC utility uniform to green utilities to BDUs, and from the little Jackie Kennedy/Chanel suit to the polyester horror. At least the Jackie Kennedy number was real wool….

This time it is a utility uniform, although the expense and hassle this will incur amongst service personnel will be about as great as it would have been if it were service dress/class A’s/whatever. I realize of course that this uniform issue thing is a mystery to the average civilian, but it has a great deal of importance to those in the military life. Uniform regs dictate what you wear, when you wear it, and the many variants and options available. The fact is that some people can go through an entire career and only very occasionally wear certain of the combinations— usually under protest, and after having had to go out and buy everything new because the uniform has been changed since the last time they wore it, and they would be Out of Regs, which is very nearly the military version of the Fate Worse Than Death, unless they run over to the BX/PX uniform sales and buy a set… or two.
(Thank the Deity for DPP, the deferred payment plan, or a sort of take-home lay-away extended to us by the Exchange.)

The Air Force, you see, is pretty well divided up between those career fields and people who wear the utility uniforms day in and day out to do their job— generally those who fix things, or climb around on top of things, or grub around in the dirt chasing after people, moving heavy objects, or blowing stuff up— and those who work in offices or labs, meet the public, and usually don’t have to worry about getting grubby. You are pretty much wearing one set of uniform requirements or the other, and it has advantages; the main one being that you know what you are going to put on in the morning, accessorizing is already done for you, per regulation and all you have to worry about is making sure that it is clean, pressed and polished. You will tend to put your attention towards what you wear most days, and let the other set slide, until you absolutely, positively have to pay attention to it. Many Class-A wearing shops attempt to get attention paid by instituting a BDU day for their troops, but a day for the utility-wearing troops to don their Class-As usually has to wait on things like a formal inspection, a promotion or a visit from a general, since it usually isn’t practical for them to do their jobs in something that has to be dry-cleaned.

The institution of a New Uniform is one of those larger lumps in the happy oatmeal of military life precisely because of the expense incurred, when the cycle of gradual replacement of what you were initially issued in Basic Training is disrupted. Part of basic training includes being kitted out in your initial uniform issue; a generous quantity of sets of utility uniforms, and Class-As, which are like a business suit with extras, plus the extras— shoes, hats, overcoat, boots, ties or tie-tabs, belts, gloves, scarf, a handbag for the women enlistees. Every year thereafter, as long as you are in the service, you receive a clothing allowance, between $100-$150 when I was in, which was supposed to be used to replace items which had worn out, or become unserviceable—stained, torn, spiked or mutilated, or to buy optional uniform items; that is, things which were part of the uniform, but not part of the initial issue. That would be attractive and useful things like the woolly-pully, the thick woolen pullover sweater, or the windbreaker jacket, the nicer trench-coat styled overcoat, the stylish and all-leather Coach-manufactured handbag.

The yearly clothing allowance is pretty much tapped out after three or four items. The authorities who dictate this have only taken the gradual replacement into account, not the expense of replacing two-thirds of your working wardrobe all at one time. This is a serious expense, and cause for most enlisted people to be a little restrained in their enthusiasm for a new uniform. Especially if it has been the cause for a lot of jokes, already. One naturally prefers the devil you know, to the devil unknown, especially if it is the devil that you have already faced every morning upon getting dressed to go to work.

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