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Airmen sound off on dumb Air Force rules

Oct. 2, 2011 - 09:23AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 - 09:23AM  |  
An Air Force Instruction released in July says airmen may not drink or eat while walking in uniform.
An Air Force Instruction released in July says airmen may not drink or eat while walking in uniform. (Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes / Air Force)
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Staff Sgt. Joshua Campbell doesn't have a degree in thermodynamics, but he doesn't need one to know leaving a coffee pot on a burner overnight is a fire waiting to happen.

Duh. Yet, the Air Force has made it a rule. Check out the Air Force Occupational Safety and Health Standard 91-501. It's right there on Page 40.

What really bugs Lt. Brian Jensen is tucking in his PT shirt, but it's the rule. And the reflective belt that airmen downrange have to wear practically everywhere. Enough said.

Dumb rules are the bane of airmen's existence. OK, slightly melodramatic, but they are aggravating. And it's safe to say every airman has at least one rule he loves to hate.

Over the years, uniform wear rules, probably more than anything else, have made airmen fume. So when the Air Force updated its dress and personal appearance guidelines, Air Force Times decided it was time to ask airmen what they think qualifies as the Air Force's dumbest rule.

The responses came pouring in. Dozens of readers sent in emails, citing one dumb rule after another. Hundreds more weighed in on, arguing about which rule reigned as the dumbest.

Lots of the suggestions are contenders, including a few customs and courtesies that found their way into the pile. Read on and decide for yourself:


The reg: Air Force Instruction 36-2903, which governs dress and personal appearance, tells airmen to "not consume food and/or beverage while walking in uniform." The instruction makes exceptions for taking a drink while wearing the PT uniform, and commanders can make exceptions during special functions.

The gripe: Airman 1st Class Juan Rivera of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, is puzzled why he can't drink a Coke while he's strolling along.

"I understand not wolfing down a Big Mac and fries while you're walking. It just makes you look like a pig," wrote Rivera, a member of the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron. "But what's wrong with carrying a cup in your hand and taking a sip as you walk?"

The rule seems even dumber when Rivera thinks about the Air Force allowing airmen to walk and talk on a cellphone at the same time. Surely, he wrote, wandering into traffic or forgetting to salute because you're too busy jabbering into your iPhone seems far less professional.

Staff Sgt. Anthony Warfield of Misawa Air Base, Japan, is just as baffled at the idea. There are times when he catches lunch at the food court and wants to refill his drink before checking out the new movies on sale at the BX but he can't take a gulp on the way.

Ditto for base functions where punch is served.

"You have to completely freeze in place every time you take a sip," wrote Warfield, a cyber systems operator.

The reg: Air Force Occupational Safety and Health Standard 91-501: Unplug coffee pots at the end of the day. Do not use timers unless the coffee pot comes with an integral timer.

The gripe: For Campbell, it's just such a no-brainer that you wouldn't want to burn out the pot or worse.

"Regulations on coffee pots and coffee-pot timers?" wrote Campbell, of Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "As I learned in my risk management college course, too many regulations will eventually have an adverse effect.

The reg: AFI 36-2903 requires airmen to wear reflective belts or armbands in low-light conditions when they're wearing running shorts without reflective material. It allows commanders to require belts or armbands at other times, "when safety conditions make it appropriate."

The gripe: How much time you got? Suffice it to say that airmen hate reflective belts. It doesn't matter if it's wearing a reflective belt with the PT uniform, during deployments or while riding a motorcycle.

Airmen aren't the only ones to take notice. Senior Airman Reece Simpson attended a morale show a couple of years ago and vividly remembers comedian Carlos Mencia poking fun at the reflective belts.

"He said that you have to be really dumb not to see a car coming with its lights on out in the middle of the desert," wrote Simpson, who is also assigned to Andersen. "Seriously, they allow us to work on multimillion-dollar aircraft and carry guns around, but they can't trust us not to see a car coming?"

Senior Airman Kilroy Collins is required to wear the belt even when he jogs during the day and that puzzles him.

"I got to ask my wing commander about it, and he told me that getting hit by a car hurts," wrote Collins, of Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. "Well, yes, it does, but I typically look where I'm going and stay on sidewalks."

Lt. Chris Garner can't figure out why motorcycle riders need to wear reflective belts.

"You'd have to strain through the blinding light of the headlamp in order to see it anyways," wrote Garner, who is in undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. "You see the lights and reflectors of the motorcycle long before you even have time to notice whether or not the rider is wearing a reflective belt."

The reg: Sigh. AFI 36-2903 states the PT T-shirt must remain tucked in at all times.

The gripe: Lt. Brian Jensen's shirt comes untucked when he's working out and he gets an earful about it.

"I have had more people come up to me in the gym to correct my shirt not tucked than any other uniform infraction," wrote Jensen, a C-130 pilot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

"In what world does it make sense to hold a standard of uniform, like a tucked-in PT shirt, when at the same time our shirt may be dirty with grass, dirt and large sweat spots from doing PT on a grass field?" Jensen asked rhetorically. "Not to mention that when we do PT the shirt comes untucked anyways, so now I have to interrupt my PT to tuck it back in."

The reg: Air Forces Central Instruction 36-2903 states commanders will determine the types of footwear that airmen can wear and encourages leaders to "take local customs into account when developing these standards."

The gripe: Socks with toe shoes? Really?

Ah, c'mon, wrote Lt. Col. Trae York, who works at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

"According to AFCENT policy, you must wear socks with Vibram FiveFingers [toe shoes]," York wrote. "FiveFingers are made to be worn without socks! Duh. In fact, writing in the PT reg that you must wear socks is dumb. Writes you into a corner. If folks want to wear PT shoes that fit like gloves sans socks, let 'em."

The reg: More from AFCENT's 36-2903: the PT outfit "will be worn as a uniform," and airmen aren't allowed to mix civilian clothing with PT gear.

The gripe: Try as he may, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Grayson just can't see the logic.

"This makes no sense, does not affect how well a person does their job/performs mission and absolutely kills morale," wrote Grayson, who did not give his home base. "At some deployed locations, you risk getting chewed out for trying to get to the restroom while sleeping if your ‘uniform' is not complete, as if it's not hard enough to have to walk a block in the middle of the night to use the restroom."

The reg: AFI 36-3003, which lays out how airmen can take time off, states leave must begin and end in "the place where the member lives and from which he or she commutes to the duty station."

The gripe: Not all airmen work a standard duty day, Master Sgt. Brit Yocum wrote, and being charged leave for days he already has off "is a relic from the past."

"We are all on call all the time now, even when we are on leave," wrote Yocum, who works in the command surgeon's office at Air Force Global Strike Command headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

Tech. Sgt. Terry Beasley calls the policy "ridiculous." The paralegal at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., thinks the fairest policy would be the simplest: Take leave only for the days you would be working.

"Why I should pay for Saturday and Sunday that I would have off anyway?" Beasley wrote.

Garner, the Laughlin lieutenant, couldn't agree more.

"Why can't we only be charged for the extra days off we request that weren't already given to us?" he wrote. "I think in fairness it should be allowed to combine leave with passes."

The reg: That pesky AFI 36-2903 lists prohibited haircuts, including Mohawks, mullets, cornrows, dreadlocks and etched designs.

The gripe: Staff Sgt. Isunte Barnes doesn't get what the Air Force has against dreadlocks and he takes it as a personal affront.

"If maintained to the same standard as braids or cornrows, there should be no prohibition," wrote Barnes, who is assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. "From what I was told, the prohibition was in place because of the gas masks' ineffectiveness it caused. If dreadlocks were maintained the exact same and were just as small as braids, then the gas mask excuse is not valid. I cannot help but to take this rule personally."

The reg: Heavy sigh. AFI 36-2903 states airmen can't stand or walk with their hands in their pockets, "except to insert or remove an item."

The gripe: Tech. Sgt. Mark Lorenzo recognizes some might think the practice looks unprofessional but he pleads for exceptions.

"As a prior maintainer, I've had to work on aircraft structures in sub-freezing temperatures, often times in spaces so confined that it was impractical to wear gloves," wrote Lorenzo, an instructor supervisor at Keesler. "While I was trying to restore circulation, I was asked to remove my hands from my pockets.

"There should absolutely be exceptions to the rule. Sometimes, it's just plain comfortable and natural. If higher ups don't like the appearance, then why would they give us 12 different ABU pockets?"

Airman 1st Class Michael Velez-Grieco barely concealed his distaste for the rule.

"You can't put your hands in your pocket and leave them there for any reason," wrote Velez-Grieco, a health service manager at Keesler. "So if you're standing on a corner and you have your hands in your pocket, IT'S WRONG."

The reg: A September 2008 memo from Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz ordered airmen in most career fields to wear their dress blues every Monday.

The gripe: Capt. James Brown calls the policy "completely counterproductive."

"Let us dress comfortably, or get out of our way," wrote Brown, who didn't give his home base. "You're hindering mission flow, causing inconveniences, and believe it or not it can actually stop work from being performed on Mondays!"

Brown disputes the notion Blues Monday helps airmen return to the service heritage: "Are we going to adopt biplanes and Morse code as primary fighting weapons too?"

Yocum, the Barksdale master sergeant, sees the practice as just another thing that slows productivity.

"Blues Monday impacts my ability as an airman to rapidly adapt to evolving situations," he wrote. "[Force protection conditions] can change rapidly, without explanation, and place an airman on guard duty. Sometimes someone has to crawl on the floor or under desks and get things fixed or working. That someone is typically going to be an enlisted airman."

A former command chief told Yocum one solution to that problem could involve shifting nonadministrative work to a different day of the week.

"In no ways is the blues uniform policy compatible with flexing to the needs of today's Air Force," Yocum wrote.

Master Sgt. Shawn Hudson of Scott Air Force Base, Ill., hates Blues Monday because the uniform is the "most uncomfortable attire anyone would ever want to wear while performing any job."

Hudson, an air transportation specialist, would like to see blues worn only at special occasions.

The reg: Here we go again: AFI 36-2903 nixes all black undershirts, beginning Nov. 1.

The comment: So what's the big deal about color? Maj. Ryan Garlow wants to know.

"The green ones are uglier [than black undershirts] and it's a waste of money for us to all go buy green shirts when black works just fine," wrote Garlow, who is assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Customs and courtesies

The custom: Playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the on-base movie theater.

The gripe: Should you really have to envision bombs burstin' in air before "Animal House" comes on the screen? Tech. Sgt. Gregory Clements thinks not.

"One of the rules that has never made any sense to me is having to stand at attention in a base movie theater for the national anthem," wrote Clements, who is stationed at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany. "How does a movie full of profanity, sex and carnage reinforce our core values?"

The custom: Special parking for officers.

The gripe: A couple of spaces, OK. But double digits is just a tad too many for retired Master Sgt. Kevin Culleton.

"I find the reserved spots for O-6 and above officers at every BX and commissary to be ridiculous," wrote Culleton, who didn't give a hometown. "Perhaps one or two slots wouldn't be a big deal, but there are generally eight to 10 slots left open most of the time so that a few people can have the privilege of parking there whenever they choose."

The custom: The unwritten rules that everyone is expected to follow.

The gripe: Tech. Sgt. John Spence of Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, describes the array of unwritten rules that Air Force abides by as the "dumbest rules by far."

Some of his beefs include how seemingly only master sergeants and above qualify for the Meritorious Service Medal, proving someone is average before he can get a 3 or 4 on his enlisted performance report, and the quarterly and annual awards that "rarely have anything to do about what you did job-wise and more about what you did off duty to try to get competitive for the award."

And now, a reflection

All airmen must whine. Everyone does it, so it must be written down somewhere. Or at least that's what Capt. Douglas Pietersma thinks.

Pietersma, an intelligence officer at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., gets so frustrated by "those airmen (of all ranks) who perpetually complain."

"Although there is the occasional rule that doesn't make sense ... I don't subscribe to the idea that Air Force leadership is trying to make the lives of the rank-and-file miserable," he said. "Chances are, most ‘annoying rules' are created after someone did something stupid, and it was probably the only one of those that complains about stupid rules."

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