For those keeping score at home, the new Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, has been a part of three major decisions during his brief tenure in office.
First, he decided that unit-level maintenance organizations would not be absorbed by flying squadrons, putting flightline maintainers (and their officers) under the control of pilots, who--in most cases--have little experience or expertise in running maintenance operations.
It was a stunning blow for common sense, with Schwartz resisting the temptation to reimpose the organizational scheme of General "Tony" McPeak, who served as Chief of Staff in the early 1990s.
More recently, General Schwartz and other Air Force leaders have determined that airmen don't need standardized combat training. Reaction to that decision has been mixed; while many of the personnel who operate "outside the wire" already receive combat training, the now-cancelled CBAT (Common Battlefield Airmen Training) was an opportunity to provide those skills to airmen in career fields that are now operating beyond the base perimeter.
True, there are other training programs and venues. But no one has fully demonstrated that those efforts will provide the right set of combat skills to all airmen who need them. We'll be charitable and say that Schwartz and his leadership team got the CBAT decision only half-right.
With his latest decision, the new chief of staff is headed in the wrong direction. Beginning on 8 September, most airmen will be required to wear their service dress uniforms every Monday. Previously, most Air Force personnel wore flight suits or battle dress uniforms for their daily duties.
That policy dated back to 9-11, and then-chief of staff General John Jumper. With the nation at war, he reasoned, Air Force personnel should wear the uniform they would wear in combat. It has proven to be a popular and appropriate decision.
Not only are BDUs more comfortable than the blue, service-dress uniform, they also reflect an expeditionary force that is an active participant in the GWOT, or at least in theory. Did we mention that over half of all Air Force personnel have never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan? But that's an issue for another day.
While combat operations continue, General Schwartz believes that airmen at home station need to get back to their roots by wearing service dress uniforms one day a week. He outlined his rationale for the change in a memo that was released yesterday, and quoted in Air Force Times.
“Post-9/11, we’ve moved away from our blue uniforms almost altogether and have transformed into an Air Force that wears our utility uniform on a daily basis,” Schwartz said in the memo. “During our recent 4-star summit, we had several discussions concerning our uniforms ... [and] we all agreed that part of our image, culture and professionalism is instilled in our blues.”
To be fair, the new policy is light-years away from McPeak's uniform redesign of the early 1990s, which replaced traditional service dress with uniforms that were described as a cross between Coast Guard blues and garb worn by airline pilots.
And, General Schwartz is allowing a degree of flexibility in implementing the decision. The mandate that goes into effect next week exempts "down and dirty" career fields like maintenance and security forces. It also allows installation commanders to make the final decision on who can still wear flight suits and BDUs on Mondays.
But the policy comes perilously close to the hated uniform requirements once reserved for personnel at major command headquarters and the Air Staff. Years ago, staff officers and NCOs dreaded 1 October. Their sentiments had nothing to do with the change of seasons, or the start of a new fiscal year. Instead, their dislike was rooted in a policy that required long-sleeve shirts and ties for men (tie tabs for women) between 1 October and the end of March.
Never mind that many of us worked in overheated buildings and short-sleeve shirts would have been equally professional--and much more comfortable. Once upon a time, some four-star decided that we all needed to be in long sleeves and ties (or tie tabs) during the fall and winter months, and it took years to get some leeway in that policy.
It was the same mentality that barred open-collar shirts with the "wooly-pully" sweater, another lame-brained decison that remained on the books forever. Clearly, common sense and Air Force uniform decisions rarely intersect.
Obviously, there's nothing wrong with the service dress uniform and Air Force members wear it proudly, regardless of how often--or infrequently--it comes out of the closet. Mandating its wear on Mondays strikes us as an exercise in micro-management, another "Mickey Mouse" requirement being levied on the troops.
From our perspective, USAF leadership has more pressing issues than telling everyone what to wear on the first day of the work week. It's time to get cracking on those problems, and put such trivial issues on the backburner. Our airmen--the same ones now scrounging through their closets in preparation for Monday--deserve better.