Master Sgt. James Tritle of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, writes:
I hate to admit it but I have camouflage envy. I see Marine camouflage, the Army's new Operational Camouflage Pattern, Canadian camouflage, Japanese army camo, even my 10-year-old son's Duck Dynasty pajama camouflage — and I get jealous. And I'm not the only airman suffering from this ailment. There are many others like me.
Now you might ask, "You're Air Force, why do you need camo?" Truth is, I probably don't. In my day-to-day job, camouflage doesn't enhance my duties. But there are two ways to answer this question.
In my first 10 years in the Air Force, I wore the Battle Dress Uniform at home and Desert Camouflage Uniform while deployed. Both were relevant, practical camouflage patterned uniforms. We had two camouflage utility uniforms for four branches of service. I didn't necessarily need camo, but I wore it because it was the U.S. armed forces utility uniform. When it was time to work hard and win, we wore the same utilities and gear. We each had (and have) service uniforms to distinguish ourselves from each other. Allowing this distinction to spill over into the utility world wasn't necessary.
Secondly, I still wear camouflage. However, today I wear ill-suited vanity pattern camouflage whose sole purpose is "service identity." I may not need camouflage, but the defender at the gate does. There is nothing that pains me more than to see my brothers and sisters in harm's way wearing ill-equipped gear that puts them at risk in the combat zone.
The Army made the same vain decision when it adopted the Universal Camouflage Pattern. It took soldiers on the ground flooding Congress with complaints to convince the Army that UCP was a mistake. Thankfully the Army adopted to replace the ill-fated UCP. Good job, Army! Now, where are you, Air Force?
Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that OCP had once been considered for Air Force use, but the costs of the switch negated the decision. That decision was made concerning the "multicam" pattern OCP and not the current Army-owned OCP that soon will grace the backs of our sister service. The Army has tested and proven worthy a transitional "universal pattern" that does not scream fraud, waste and abuse. The research is done and manufacturing is underway.
As a result, airmen's envy flares.
When scouring the Airman Powered by Innovation website, adopting OCP or moving back to a standard, single Defense Department uniform has been proposed often enough to be closed each time as "commonly received." Strangely, you won't see any submissions for morale shirts.
Airmen want a uniform that works. We don't want vanity. The Air Force proves itself every day on the world stage. We can drop a munition from 30,000 feet within a meter of the target. We don't need "service distinction" on the battlefield. We distinguish ourselves by our outstanding mission execution.
We need a practical field uniform that doesn't waste tax dollars.
Vanity pattern camouflage has done nothing but lower morale and put our deployed airmen at risk. The distinction it's given us is having the most useless uniform of all the services. Sometimes looking distinct looks ridiculous.
At least it's fixable. Right, Air Force? Make us look like a dominating military force once again.