An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

War is in the details: If you can't wear your uniform properly, how can you be trusted to fight a war?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Richard A. Parsons
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command command chief
As I come in contact with Airmen while traveling around the area of responsibility, I am repeatedly asked the following question, "Chief, why are we so worried about dress and appearance standards in the AOR?"

My standard reply is "It's all about muscle memory, force protection, leadership and keeping our promise."

The typical subsequent argument is, don't we have bigger issues to worry about while we are at war? Well, sure we have big issues but how we accomplish the little things like wearing our uniform ties directly into how we accomplish our mission.

Gen. George Patton, best known for his leadership during World War II, once said, "How can we trust our soldiers to fight our wars if we cannot trust them to wear their uniform properly?"

I agree with General Patton. Our ability to fight and win America's wars is a direct reflection of how well we can follow standards. Most Airmen understand why we follow standards in the form of technical orders, standard operating procedures and rules of engagement. Airmen also understand the strategic impact when we fail to follow standards as a result of lack of discipline. For example, look at the tremendous, negative impact Abu Ghraib had on the war in Iraq. We lost the confidence of some of the people. And a more recent example is our lack of discipline discovered in our nuclear enterprise. But even today, some Airmen still do not see what the relationship of following dress and appearance standards is to failure, lack of discipline and how they relate to bigger issues.

It is all about muscle memory. Ask any athlete, rifleman or performer who relies on a skill that requires consistency during highly stressful or emotionally charged situations and they will tell you their success is based on muscle memory. I have trained my finger to move the selector lever of an M4 rifle to safe in such detail that, as I fire my weapon, it has become second nature. I always go back to check to make sure I put my weapon on safe because I do it without even thinking. As a matter of fact, the one and only time I have had to engage the enemy with my weapon I was shocked to realize that I moved the sector lever between safe and fire unconsciously throughout the fire fight. That is exactly what I am talking about when it comes to standards. If we discipline ourselves in what we call the small things, then it becomes second nature in what we call the bigger things.

If that does not convince you, maybe this will: it is a force protection issue. Often when I see a person walking around in violation of a uniform standard I will ask them if they are an imposter (poser). They look at me funny and then I say, "I am not sure if you are really an Airman if you do not know how to wear your uniform properly." That is a simple way of saying if you are a legitimate Air Force member then you should be wearing the uniform properly. Think about it. If everyone wore the uniform properly, then we could assume those who fail to wear it properly are out to infiltrate and do us harm. Unfortunately, today we pass by them without thinking twice. So I challenge you in the name of force protection, stop and make sure that person in violation of the standard is not a poser.

It is all about leadership. No one wants to work for a hypocrite and that is exactly what we are if we hold people accountable to one standard while we break another. As a leader, your creditability is lost if you choose the standards you will follow. Sure, you still have the UCMJ to back you up, but that is no longer leadership. That is dictatorship. If you want the respect that will earn you the right to ask your people to fight and die along side of you then you have to earn it, and I am not sure a hypocrite can do that.

Lastly, it is all about keeping your promise. I promised to support and defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me. I am not sure about you, but my word and my promise means something to me. And when I promised to follow the orders of those appointed over me I meant it. I am not saying that we should not work to change policies and procedures, but I am saying that at the end of the day when the officers appointed over me make a decision, I am going to keep my promise to follow them. There was a day when a man's word meant something. The question is, does the promise you made when you enlisted mean anything to you?

So to all those that have asked the question, "Why are we worried about dress and appearance standards in the AOR?" the answer is simple: muscle memory, force protection, leadership and keeping our promise.