Morale: Blues Monday


September10, 2008:  A new uniform policy makes it mandatory for most U.S. Air Force personnel to wear their Class A or B uniform (their "blues") every Monday. That's a big change. After September 11, 2001, the air force allowed personnel to wear their BDU (Battle Dress Uniform, similar to the army camouflage combat uniform) to work. This included the many personnel who worked in offices or places where you rarely saw an airman in BDUs. In late 2005, the BDU (which had now become ABU, for Airman Battle Uniform) the policy was made mandatory, the reason being, "we are at war."

While all this wearing of combat uniforms to the office was intended to improve morale, it eventually got old. This was especially the case as you saw more airmen returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with the combat badge (awarded to thousands of air force personnel who volunteered to help out the army with support jobs in the combat zone.) Over five percent of air force personnel have now served in a combat zone, and many of them have the combat badge. It was becoming something of a joke to have people safely ensconced in an office job wearing a combat uniform, while people wearing the same uniform were out in the sand box getting shot at. So the pressure has been building to skip the morale building business of wearing ABUs to the office, and give the troops what they really want, their "blues."

After 2001, the air force also worked hard to come up with a new "combat uniform." To the army and marines, this effort has been the source of much mirth. But the air force does have people, besides pilots, who are trained for, and actually get involved in, ground combat. These are the air force security troops. In effect, the air force has about five brigades worth of these men and women. They are trained to use rifles, pistols, machine-guns, grenades for ground combat. They guard air force bases, and in Iraq they helped guard convoys and bases.

The first version of the new air force combat uniform (or ABU, for Airman Battle Uniform) came out in 2003 and immediately raised a howl of protest from the security troops. The camouflage pattern of the ABU was in blue and gray. It looked nice, in a hanger or office, but there was no camouflage effect. Taken aback, the air force brass backed up and came up with a new color scheme (green-gray-blue-tan), that worked for the grunts. But the ABU designers made another error, by leaving off the extra pockets on the shirt. The army and marines had these extra pockets, and they were very useful when you were suiting up for battle. The air force brass disagreed, and the air force grunts are still grumbling about it.

Another source of complaint is the order to not put any patches on the ABU. The idea is that you spend a lot of time putting the patches on, and taking them off, when you transfer. But the grunts, who operate with soldiers and marines, like to have people know who they are. Unit pride and all that. The air force brass don't get it, and apparently feel that this ground combat stuff will soon be gone, and the air force can get all their people back to offices and hangars.




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