Morale: A Class A Problem


June 1, 2010: The U.S. Air Force is seeking a sharper looking uniform. The current dress blue uniform is generally loathed by all airmen, who believe it makes them look like bus drivers or flight attendants. So the air force brass are seeking the opinion of the troops, to determine what a new dress uniform should look like. The two main candidates reach back to World War II, when the uniforms were spiffier, and featured a belt outside the jacket. These uniforms were not as baggy and, well, looked more military. The Army Air Force became the Air Force in 1947, and by the 1950s, both services were wearing similar "bus driver" dress uniforms (green for the army and blue for the air force.) The air force seems to have learned from the recent experience of the army in trying to come up with a spiffier dress uniform.

Five years ago, the army began looking for a more impressive dress uniform. Two years ago, they adopted one. The new "Class A" uniform (or ASU, Army Service Uniform) was simply the current blue "Dress Uniform." As of this year, troops graduating from basic training will be issued the "dress blues" as their "Class A" uniform. By 2014, the ASU will be mandatory. The "Class B" uniform will be the dress blue trousers and a white shirt with decorations (ribbons, combat badge and so on). For both enlisted and officers, rank will be worn on epaulets. The new uniform "system" is similar to the one the U.S. Marine Corps has been wearing for decades, and that's no accident. However, the troops were not impressed, pointing out that the new dress uniform was as dumpy looking as the old green one. Where's the damn belt? All this exercise and weight control, and the army can't produce a dress uniform that shows it off.

All of this was in response to decades of efforts by the troops, to drop the green "Class A" uniform (green jacket and pants, with light brown shirt and tie) and go for something, anything, more impressive.. The new Class A uniform is simply the existing dress uniform. This uniform, unlike the green Class A's, that were introduced in 1954, is based on the 19th century dress uniform. Most enlisted troops do not have the dress blue uniform, because they have to buy it themselves, and that is optional for most troops. But, by 2014, the old Class A will be phased out completely.

Soldiers have had longstanding "uniform envy" issues when it comes to the marines. The USMC has always sported the most impressive dress uniform, and young enlisted marines were glad to spend at least $300 to buy themselves one. The marine "Class A" uniform is also green, but a darker green, and the jacket is worn with a belt. This looks much snappier, and many soldiers have suggested something like this for a new army Class A uniform. But many career army types have been campaigning for a spiffier Class A uniform, and something in blue, preferably with a belted jacket. But instead of a new uniform design, the army simply made the current dress blues the new Class As. The dress blues have been around for a long time, and have a good reputation. That doesn't mean that a belt cannot be added down the road. The important thing right now is to dump those hideous green Class As, which have embarrassed several generations of soldiers.

The Class A uniform is not actually worn that much, with most troops wearing BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform, with the camouflage pattern) or the Class A uniform without the jacket, when at work. The BDUs come in several different shades, none of them featuring much green. So after a century, the green is gone. The army is also eliminating the all white tropical dress uniform, which was rarely used.

The air force wear their dress uniforms more than the army does, mainly because the air force has more technical and administrative jobs that are basically office settings. The new air force dress blues will probably have the belt that soldiers have long sought (and had, during and before World War II). It was one thing for the marines to have a spiffier uniform, but not the air force. The soldiers will not be happy with this.






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