(Illustrations by Austin May)
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Some Air Force rules and regulations can leave airmen flummoxed.
For example, airmen are required to wear a bright reflective belt when doing physical training, but they can’t wear athletic shoes with “bright loud colors or excessive ornamentation,” noted Tech. Sgt. Joseph Craig, of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.
“Why ... would bright colors blind oncoming runners?” Craig wrote in an email. “Additionally it is quite difficult to find/buy athletic shoes that do not break this rule, or push the boundaries of this AFI. These are not small brands, but brands like Nike, Reebok, Newton, etc., that predominately make reflective/bright/loud athletic shoes.”
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody took time to explain this and some of the rules that perplex Air Force Times readers.
“What we’re talking about is the bright pink shoes that are shining all over the place,” Cody said. “You can have little reflective bands on your shoes, just like the same material that’s on your PT gear; it’s subdued, it just shines when the light hits it, it’s not blaring out there like it’s hot pink or bright orange.”
The issue comes down to standards, said Cody, who has been asked about sneakers before.
“When an airman is not in uniform — which the PT gear is — they can wear any sneakers they want to,” he said. “But when they’re in uniform, it needs to be somewhat conservative, it needs to present a professional military image.”
A lot of airmen tell Cody it’s hard to find sneakers that fall within Air Force uniform standards, but he says that’s no excuse.
“It may require a little bit more effort on the airman’s behalf to find sneakers that are acceptable in uniform, but they are out there, I promise you,” Cody said. “It doesn’t take long to get on the Internet and find them, and we are actually going to address this with our military clothing sales and our exchange folks to make sure we are at least offering in those venues an assortment of some sneakers that would meet the Air Force standards for uniform.”
Another uniform question came from Senior Master Sgt. Anthony DiNini, of Robins Air Force Base, Ga., who asked why airmen are required to wear their hats outside.
“I’ve been in and out of the Air Force for about 30 years, and we’ve always had to wear hats outside,” DiNini said. “I’m just not a big fan of wearing hats in the first place.”
Hats can also be dangerous for airmen in certain jobs, he said.
“Especially logistics, like myself, we work in maintenance — a big part of the Air Force — and when we’re performing our duties out there, we’re not allowed to wear our hats because it creates what they call a FOD [foreign object debris] problem out there on the flightline around aircraft,” DiNini said. “So 99 percent of the time, we’re required not to wear our hats except, of course, when we go home or leave the duty area.”
While the requirement about wearing hats is part of Air Force tradition, it is also practical, Cody explained.
“The Air Force philosophy is that the uniform has got to be plain, distinctive and standardized, and headgear helps standardize — we all don’t have hair and we all don’t have the same color hair, it’s not all the same length, so when you put us in uniform, there’s a piece that goes with that standardization,” he said.
Moreover, some hats are meant to serve a purpose, such as the hats airmen who work in dining facilities wear to keep their hair out of your food, or other hats that keep the sun out of your eyes, Cody said.
Hats are also essential to presenting a professional military appearance that inspires confidence fromthe American public, he said.
“They draw certain views of the military’s effectiveness based on the image of the Air Force,” he said. “The image must instill public confidence and leave no doubt that the service members live by these common standards, that we represent this disciplined force.”
When airmen take leave, they are charged for any weekends or holidays that fall during their time off, noted Master Sgt. Melissa Whitfield, of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
“I feel robbed every time I have to take leave during a time where, even if I were in the local area, I wouldn’t have to be at work,” Whitfield said in an email.
The reason for the policy is that airmen typically can’t be called back to duty when they are on leave, Cody said.
“If you’re not on leave, there could be a time where we would call you back to duty, even though it was your normally scheduled day off, and we would expect you to be able to report to duty within a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “If you’re on leave, you’re on leave. If you’re on your days off, and there’s a fundamental difference of what we can expect an airman to do in those time frames.”
However, commanders may limit where an airman can go on leave if they feel there is a chance that the airman may be called back to active duty during that time, Cody said.
“When we approve leave, a commander will take into consideration — or should — where they’re going and if that’s acceptable,” he said. “If they want to take a trip overseas, that may not be conducive to what might be coming up and going on; where the commander might say, ‘Well, I can’t approve leave for you to go overseas but I can approve leave if you want to go to South Carolina — because I can get you back from South Carolina but I can’t get you back from overseas.’”
A retired chief master sergeant, who asked not to be identified, asked why airmen can be permanently denied military awards and decorations for failing the PT test once. There isn’t an Air Force rule that says airmen who fail the PT test are ineligible for awards, but some commanders do so anyway.
The issue came up last year when former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy wrote an April 6, 2012, memo to senior enlisted leaders.
“We don’t need policy to mandate that a decoration will or will not be recommended after one PT failure, and we don’t want guidance stating that we can or cannot recommend our best technical sergeants for meritorious service medals,” Roy wrote. “In fact, AFI 36-2803 clearly forbids establishing these kinds of set conditions for denying or downgrading decorations.”
While there is no policy that makes airmen with one PT failure ineligible for a decoration, commanders set their criteria when they are the approval authority for decorations, Cody explained.
“They can establish what standards must be met for them to consider,” Cody said, “They’re not supposed to — and typically do not — come out with these hard and fast, ‘You must do this, this and this to earn a decoration.’ The AFI covers that, but they can certainly say if you are going to be considered for a decoration, you need to meet all Air Force standards, you need be to able to do this type of stuff because when you’re looking at the overall performance of what an airman has done, how they meet standards is certainly relevant.”
Commanders can look at a one-time PT test failure as one of several factors when determining an airman’s performance, but thousands of airmen who have failed the PT test have gone on to receive decorations, Cody said.
The Air Force is currently conducting a review of all special duties, such as first sergeant, which can be hard to find enough volunteers for. But one technical sergeant at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, said he was denied a position as field training detachment instructor because he has not spent enough time where he is now.
The technical sergeant, who asked not to be identified, doesn’t feel it’s fair that an otherwise qualified candidate should be denied a special duty because he or she has not had enough time on station.
But it would be more expensive to allow airmen to move on to another duty more often and the Air Force is facing a climate of severe fiscal austerity, Cody said.
“We need to save money; every time you move people it costs money,” he said. “Once we [permanent change of station] and — in many cases — move your entire family, your household goods and all that stuff, to just turn around and move you again without making sure we don’t have another airman who’s eligible to do it or somebody else who should be able to fill the position, we have to think about that — that’s the taxpayer’s money right there.”
The Air Force hopes to wrap up its review of special duties in the next few weeks, Cody said. He said previously the service is leaning toward having commanders pick their best performers to fill special duties instead of asking airmen to volunteer.
“We are closer to we’ve ever been to execution on this,” he said. “There’s still some final coordination and signing off to be done but we’re in the right place for right now.”
If the Air Force really wants to save money, it should consider reducing the number of its general officers, said a deployed master sergeant.
“We’re downsizing and they’re hitting the enlisted side, they’re hitting us pretty hard,” said the master sergeant, who asked not to be identified. “They haven’t started looking at the top yet — at all.”
Actually, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided in March 2011 to reduce, reallocate or eliminate 140 general and flag officer positions, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
Since then, the department has eliminated 17 Air Force general officer positions, as well as nine Army, 10 Navy and 34 joint general and flag officer positions, Christensen said.
“Of the remaining positions to be eliminated or reduced, many of them are ‘conditions-based’ and tied to operations within and supporting Afghanistan,” Christensen said in an email. “We expect the number of eliminations to increase mostly from late 2013 through 2014.”
These are just some of the rules that you felt need to be changed. Others include:
The gripe: Computer-based training.
Computer-based training doesn’t give airmen the hands-on experience they need, and this problem is particularly felt by reservists who need time to get real training when they deploy, said a senior airman in the Air Force Reserve, who drills at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.
“How can we possibly be effective if we’re behind a computer screen all the time for training?” she said.
The rule: In February, Cody told Air Force Times he plans to review how much computer-based training airmen need, but for every airman who says CBT is a waste of time, others will say it is worthwhile and easier than taking time out of their day to go somewhere else for training.
The Air Force first needs to find out how many CBT classes it has so it can figure out which ones are priorities for airmen, he said.
“Both the chief and I want to address it,” Cody said in the Feb. 21 interview. “We want to be able to respond back to our airmen and tell them, ‘OK, we’ve looked at this’; (give them) a better explanation, a better prioritization of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We certainly want to eliminate things that we don’t need to do.”
The gripe: Reflective belts.
As all airmen know, reflective belts are usually a bright puke green color that only the most nearsighted sniper could not see from five miles away.
“If you’re not bright enough to look both ways before you cross a road, you’ve earned what’s coming to you,” one person wrote on Air Force Times’ Facebook page. “The only folks who should be wearing one are children on base and those on a motorcycle.”
Over the years, airmen have complained that wearing the reflective belt has been so obsessively-compulsively enforced that airmen have been denied entry to chow halls and gyms for not wearing it.
The animosity toward the reflective belt is evidenced by the “I Hate Reflective Belts” Facebook page, in which troops from all branches can kvetch.
“I was always told to wear one during an exercise because we were practicing for war!” one person posted. “Well, I always figured that is the LAST thing I would want to wear!”
The rule: Airmen are required to wear reflective belts or armbands in low-light conditions or when commanders decide that “safety conditions make it appropriate.”
There are no indications that this rule is going away, so embrace the suck.
The gripe: The V-neck undershirt.
V-neck undershirts and dress blues don’t go together well, said Aaron Sanderson, an Air Force ROTC cadet at Auburn University, Ala.
“The V-neck kind of dips down and with top button of the blues unbuttoned, sometimes with men, you can see their chest hair,” he said.
The rule: The Air Force regulation on dress and appearance allows airmen to wear a white crew-neck T-shirt under their service and dress blues only if their collars are buttoned up. The V-neck must be worn if the collar is open.
The gripe: Lack of uniform policy for uniforms.
Individual bases can have their own uniform policy, and that can pose a challenge to airmen deploying downrange, said Tony Carr, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
“Let’s say I’m an airman and I’m stationed at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and I deploy to an unnamed location in Southwest Asia that has its own uniform AFI or its uniform OI that’s a local base operating instruction — and that instruction might actually have a lot of pages, it may have 80 pages or 85 pages of additional amplified guidance on how to wear the uniform,” Carr said. “The two weeks that I’m learning how to do that, I should really be focusing on doing the ...job that I deployed to do instead of relearning how to wear my uniform.”
The rule: The Air Force instruction on uniforms allows both Major Command and installation commanders to have the authority to spell out what airmen wear, and that includes requiring and prohibiting clothing and equipment.
In practical terms, this means that when Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh allowed commanders last year to decide whether or not to continue Blues Mondays, it was initially unclear how many airmen still had to wear their blue uniforms on Mondays.
The gripe: ID checks at base entrances.
When the Air Force got rid of vehicle decals and mandated 100 percent ID checks to get on base, it created a big mess, Carr said.
“I would be surprised if there’s a threat that would justify checking every single ID,” he said. “It’s a bit of a jobs program. You have security professionals who are always going to advise more security, that’s what they get paid to do, and what it does is it just creates a need for the Air Force to manage more traffic, to deal with more traffic backups at front gates.”
Carr argues that most bases are secure enough that going back to decals and using random security checks would work better.
The rule: The Air Force phased out vehicle decals in March 2007 because the Defense Department required 100 percent ID checks on all bases following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“This has rendered the decals superfluous, since the ID card checks are a much more effective means of verifying the authority of a driver to enter the base,” according to a 2007 fact sheet from the Air Force Security Forces Center.
“In fact, the decals now are arguably a detriment to security. They are easily counterfeited, moved from one car to another, or found in used car parking lots. Moreover, looking for the decal on an approaching vehicle distracts our gate guards from focusing on the occupants.”
The gripe: Hands in pockets.
One person, who asked not to be identified, took issue that the Air Force — and the other services — does not allow airmen to put their hands in their pockets.
“It’s cold out sometimes and they serve a good purpose,” the person wrote in an email.
The rule: This is a perennial issue, prompting a petition to the White House last year to allow all service members to put their hands in their pockets, although the petition is no longer available on the White House website.
The Air Force instruction for dress and appearance of service personnel makes clear that airmen will not, “Stand or walk with hands in pockets of any uniform combination, other than to insert or remove items.”
But do you know who put his hands in his pockets while in uniform? Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. And no one ever accused him of not presenting a professional military appearance.
The gripe: Headphones during PT.
One way to get into the zone while jogging is to listen to some good tunes, but the Air Force recently mandated that airmen can’t use headphones on base roads.
The reason is they are afraid you will get distracted and get hit by a car.
The rule: Airmen are not allowed to wear headphones while running on base roadways “for the sake of ensuring good situational awareness,” Bill Parsons, the Air Force’s ground safety chief, wrote in a January 2012 letter. The rule is actually a result of Defense Department policy.
However, you can still use your headphones on “specifically designed jogging trails, tracks and recreational areas,” Parsons wrote in the letter.
So if you want to run in a oblong-shaped circle, you’ll probably need some ZZ Top to get you past the boredom.
The gripe: Waist measurement.
Col. Tim Bush had an enviable career, until he was relieved of command March 20 for failing the waist measurement part of his PT test.
Bush was 2 inches above the limit, and that meant his time in the Air Force was done. The former wing commander is among the 5,800 airmen who failed the waist portion of the PT test in the first half of fiscal 2013. It is just one of four components of the test, but the most hated because it fails to give any leeway for height or age.
An oversized waist means airmen fail the entire test, regardless of their performance on the 1.5-mile walk, situps or pushups.
The rule: The waist measurement limits for most airmen is 39 inches for male airmen and 35.5 inches for female airmen because science has indicated that anything more than that is a red flag for health problems down the road.
But experts have questioned how reliable the waist measurement is and the Air Force is conducting a review of whether it should be part of the PT test. There is no word on when the review will be completed.