Morale: The Glow Of Anger

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November 11, 2009: U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in combat zones are in an uproar over a regulation that requires them to wear safety belts (of reflective material that glows in the dark) whenever they are on the flight line (air strip). When out there, the troops are exposed to enemy fire, and the last thing they want at night is a reflective belt that makes it easier for enemy gunmen to find them. The belts are intended to give taxiing pilots vehicle drivers warning of nearby personnel. The belts must also be worn when on the street or a parking lot, to prevent getting hit by vehicles. The troops in Afghanistan are particularly upset over this policy, as the Afghans, more than the Iraqis, are often good shots. All they need at night is a clearly defined target. So far, air force brass have ignored the protests.

All this goes back to efforts to improve the utility of air force work uniforms. After 2001, the air force also worked hard to come up with a new "combat uniform." To the army and marines, this effort has been the source of much mirth. But the air force does have people who are trained for, and actually get involved in, ground combat. These are the air force security troops. In effect, the air force has about five brigades worth of these men and women. They are trained to use rifles, pistols, machine-guns, grenades for ground combat. They guard air force bases, and in Iraq they helped guard convoys and bases. These airmen need a combat uniform that is similar in function to those worn by soldiers and marines.

The first version of the new air force combat uniform (or ABU, for Airman Battle Uniform) came out in 2003 and immediately raised a howl of protest from the security troops. The camouflage pattern of the ABU was in blue and gray. It looked nice, in a hanger or office, but there was no camouflage effect. The air force brass backed up and came up with a new color scheme (green-gray-blue-tan), that worked for the grunts. But the ABU designers made another error, by leaving off the extra pockets on the shirt. The army and marines had these extra pockets, and they were very useful when you were suiting up for battle. The air force brass disagreed, and the air force grunts are still grumbling about it.

Another source of complaint is the order to not put any patches on the ABU. The idea is that you spend a lot of time putting the patches on, and taking them off, when you transfer. But the grunts, who operate with soldiers and marines, like to have people know who they are. Unit pride and all that. The air force brass don't get it, and apparently feel that this ground combat stuff will soon be gone, and the air force can get all their people back to offices and hangars. Meanwhile, the troops wearing cammies near the shooting just want a uniform that doesn't glow in the dark.

 

 


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