I have been asked countless times throughout my career and may have even asked the question myself as a young Airman sitting inside a storage area at McConnell Air Force Base. Why does it really matter if Airmen wear their uniform properly and why do the senior NCOs talk about Air Force Instruction 35-10 all the time?
First, if you do not know what 35-10 is, find a retiree or someone who has been in for 15 plus years and they will fill you in answering. Second, I believe it is important to know the history behind military uniforms before pondering the question.
Up until World War I and the invention of electronic communications, the militaries of the world wore distinctive uniforms so commanders could look out across the battle field, manage the battle and tell who was who. The transformation from brightly colored very distinct uniforms to the many versions of camouflage we have seen since World War I occurred for two reasons: trench warfare and the invention of the fighter plane, which made it very desirable for Soldiers to blend into their environment.
Whether it is an enlisted Airman, U.S. Air Force Academy in basic training, an officer in ROTC or Officer Training School, uniforms are one the first things we are issued. At that point, every Airman became something bigger than him or herself and voluntarily agrees to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their nation if called upon to do so. Even though your last name is on most uniforms you wear, it is not about your name, it is about the U.S. Air Force name tape on the left pocket of your Airman Battle Uniform or on the distinct blue uniforms we wear. This tells anyone around the world that you belong to most lethal and elite Air Force the world has ever known.
It has been argued, and something I agree with wholeheartedly, if you cannot wear your uniform properly, how can you be trusted to accomplish your daily tasks properly? Will you take short cuts on a satellite commanding checklist or not properly check every vehicle and its occupants coming through the gate? Most would consider those tasks as very simple but if not properly performed could result in bad things happening to a satellite or base personnel.
Now take a moment and think about the people who have mentored you and more importantly who you have looked up to during your career. I would bet who they always looked good in their uniforms and you never thought; they looked sloppy or needed a haircut. Most importantly without saying a word, you knew they had pride not only in the Air Force but also pride in the uniform they wore.
These are just a few examples of why everyone should wear their uniform properly and with pride.
There of course are many more and everyone has their own reasons why. Finally I will leave you with; the next time you are putting on your uniform take a moment and reflect on the fact that most Americans will never get to experience wearing a military uniform and do not forget you are representing something bigger than yourself.