Air Force tailoring uniform to suit airmen’s needs

By LISA BURGESS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2006

(See photos of the prototypes, and details on how to weigh in with your comments, at end of story)

ARLINGTON, Va. — After hearing a planeload of complaints about the “bus driver” look of the Air Force’s dress blue uniform, Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley has launched a project to find out what airmen might like to wear instead.

To start the discussion, the Air Force Uniform Board has created two prototypes for airmen to critique, each based on the garb favored by two of the service’s most famous men: Billy Mitchell, who is often called the “father of American airpower,” and Hap Arnold, the modern Air Force’s first general.

Airmen have almost universally loathed the dress uniform since 1991, when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak overhauled the jacket to reflect what he said was a “cleaner” appearance.

The most common complaint is that the resulting uniform looks “like a cheap business suit,” Senior Master Sgt. Dana Athnos, a member of the Air Force Uniform Board.

“When a Marine walks through the airport, everyone knows he’s in the military,” Athnos told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

“But when [airmen] walk through the airport, people think we’re wearing business suits, or we’re flight attendants — it just doesn’t have a military appearance, compared to the other services.”

After Moseley was sworn in as the Air Force’s chief of staff in September, he directed the Uniform Board to begin the long process of adopting a new uniform, “using our heritage as a starting point,” Athnos said.

The resulting Mitchell prototype includes a distinctive stand-up collar, similar to the collar on the Marine Corps dress mess uniform and reflective of the World War I, Prussian military influence that dominated U.S. military uniforms in Mitchell’s time.

The Hap Arnold prototype has a belt, a vented back, wide lapels, and is “stitch-for-stitch identical” to the World War II Army Air Corps’ “pinks and greens” uniform, Athnos said.

The Uniform Board will select a new dress uniform using the same process it used to choose the new Airman’s Battle Uniform, Athnos said.

The next step is send a survey to hundreds of airmen, asking for their opinions on the dress uniform. The survey should be out within the next 60 days, she said.

The Air Force is also planning to set up a Web site that will be open to anyone who wants to comment on the issue, either inside or outside the service.

In the meantime, the Air Force has set up a special feedback e-mail address just for Stripes readers: uniformfeedback@pentagon.af.mil (see more details at end of story).

This fall, the Uniform Board will meet and discuss all of the feedback, Athnos said. The prototype uniforms will then be changed accordingly, and the results sent to a select group of airmen for wear testing, and the feedback process will begin again.

Like the utility uniform, the dress uniform will go through many changes before Air Force leadership decides to adopt a final look, Athnos said.

“The important thing for people to remember is that nothing is set in stone yet,” she said. “Absolutely everything is on the table,” including the precise color of the fabric, the color, shape, and design of the buttons, pocket placement, the belt question, the collar – “gazillions of details.”

“We can go anywhere or nowhere with this,” Athnos said. “Gen. Moseley is very concerned with making sure this us what the service wants.”

The prototypes ...

C. Todd Lopez / USAF
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Allardice, right, and Senior Master Sgt. Dana Athnos show off prototypes of the Billy Mitchell heritage coat at the Pentagon this week. Allardice is director of Airmen development and sustainment, and Athnos is a member of the Air Force uniform board.


The “Billy Mitchell” prototype

This uniform is based on the U.S. Army’s “Standing Collar Coat,” which the Army authorized for use in 1911. The coat was the standard service dress uniform of Army Air Service and Army Air Corps personnel until 1926.

C. Todd Lopez / USAF
Allardice and  Athnos model the Hap Arnold heritage coat.

The “Hap Arnold” prototype

This uniform is similar to the U.S. Army’s “Service Coat with Lapels,” authorized for wear in 1926. U.S. Army Air Service pilots also wore the coat unofficially during World War I in France.

Army designers developed the design from the service coat used by the British Royal Air Force, but modified it for comfort. It remained the Army’s service dress uniform standard until 1947.

Sources: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Your chance to weigh in ...

The Air Force has set up a special e-mail address for Stripes readers to comment on the new dress uniform prototypes: uniformfeedback@pentagon.af.mil

Air Force officials welcome all comments, but say they would particularly like to know the following:

1. Do you even want a change in the dress uniform, or should the service leave it as it is?

2. Please comment about each prototype (Hap Arnold and Billy Mitchell) in as much detail as possible. What do you like about each design, and what do you dislike?

3. Prototypes aside, what details or features would you like to see in a dress uniform that are not in today’s version? (Examples might be a silver stripe on the pants leg, a kick pleat in the women’s skirt, etc.)

4. Overall, what kind of Air Force dress uniform would you be proud to wear? One that reflects the service’s heritage? Something futuristic? Something with a plain, simple, and streamlined appearance?

— Stars and Stripes