[Editor’s Note: The natives are restless with torches and pitchforks over CAP Col Richard Greenwood’s Frankenstein uniform monster.]
***This article is written specifically for members of Civil Air Patrol, if you are not a member it may be hard to follow along with some terms and subjects.
First, I am a serving member of the United States Air Force and thus wear the Airmen Battle Uniform (ABU) for my job. I’m also a member of my unit’s Base Honor Guard and have a high working knowledge of the Air Force uniform instruction, AFI 36-2903. I’ve been in Civil Air Patrol now for 11 years and received the General Carl A. Spaatz Award in 2014 before becoming a Senior Officer the same year.
For many years I have been a loud advocate for CAP switching to ABU’s on social media, but recently had a change of heart. For these reasons I believe I have an informed opinion worth speaking in regards to the new CAP uniform and it’s transition from the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) . There is a lot that is going wrong so this article is very long and I apologize, but please have a read, and I look forward to hearing your civil and constructive responses.
The next thing I would like to address before getting in to the meat is alternate uniforms and corporate uniforms. There is a large group of active and former CAP members who insist that CAP should get rid of camo uniforms completely and switch to some other sort of uniform such as the Blue Battle Dress Uniform similar to what the U.S. Coast Guard wears. Their reasoning being that CAP is not military, and because we perform search and rescue missions, camo is not beneficial.
I have to say these people who believe this, and I apologize if you are one, have completely lost sight of what Civil Air Patrol is, who we are, where we came from and where we are going. Now more than ever, CAP is being recognized as an important part of the Air Force’s “Total Force” initiative, and the program has always been a part of the Air Force with a strong military cadet structure.
A couple of days ago I saw a new update to the CAP ABU uniform and I shed a tear as I heard the collective laughter of CAP and military members all across the country as our uniform took one step farther away from the Air Force, and one step closer to the Boy Scouts.
The first thing many people noticed is the authorization of special headgear at cadet activities, and only at the activity, specifically, the Blue Beret and St. Alban’s pin earned at National Blue Beret. This is a major source of frustration as the Beret was authorized to be worn at any time in the BDU, and now only at the activity in the ABU. The beret and pin have been awarded for around 40 years now, and suddenly National HQ wants to squash it, why? I’ll get to my theory about this in a moment.
Baseball caps were also added, pretty much authorizing any activity, or any level commander under Wing to authorize unit baseball caps of any color except red, why not red? As specified in the supplement to the uniform MANUAL, “Red baseball caps may not be authorized since this color baseball cap is reserved by the Air Force for specific special duty units.” Forgive me, but what the heck? Since when has it been appropriate to describe a decision made in a uniform manual?
That’s not what that document is for, and not only is this inappropriate but it shows an extreme lack of understanding of manuals and their structure at the echelon level where this knowledge needs to be impeccable. For heck sake, they are writing these things… As for the baseball hats themselves… why!? This is just one more thing the Air Force does not wear with the ABU… which means it is just one more thing separating us.
I digress, so assuming this was the reason for the red caps, one can only assume this is the same reason why the blue beret is not authorized for normal wear in the ABU as well right? Because it’s “reserved” for Security Forces? If one doesn’t take a moment to actually think… this would be a reasonable conclusion. But lets look back to the days when we wore BDU’s… even the pickle suit… we have always been authorized to wear the beret in those uniforms, but guess who else wore them at the EXACT same time in the EXACT same uniform… that’s right, Security Forces! So no Uniform Committee, that’s not a legitimate reason.
The next thing that caught my eye were T-shirts. Admittedly this isn’t a HUGE issue as the T-shirt is typically under the ABU blouse. However, there are often times when the t-shirt will be exposed. The new release says that the shirt has to be “desert tan” in other words “sand” as we call them in the Air Force, but commanders may authorize unit logos on the front AND BACK of the shirts. In case you’re not in the Air Force and unaware of the Air Forces rules regarding this, here you go: The only time shirts with logos on them can be worn is on Friday, also known as “Friday shirts” or “moral shirts.” And to add to that, only a squadron logo can be placed on the front left breast, things on the back are not permitted. Again, admittedly not a huge deal, but it’s one more step in the wrong direction, and it adds to my final point.
Okay, the new navy blue and silver name tapes and insignia may not be the greatest, but I will give credit where credit is deserved. It is an upgrade from a long since retired Air Force color, and updates our insignia to more modern Air Force colors, and the reasonable argument can be made that they are the same color of Air Force NCO stripes, so at least there is some sort of reasonable connection that can be made, sure. It does look like someone took a sharpie and drew big black stripes across the uniform, but at lease there are some reasons for the color choice, and alone on the ABU, I don’t think they look half bad (see the 1st Lt on the left in the image above).
HOWEVER, my opinion changed when I began to see the first pictures of ABU’s emerging with squadron and activity patches on them, I dry heaved a little. A friend of mine told me I’m being too critical and that they looked the same on the BDU, I’m just not used to it on the ABU yet, but here is why there is a difference: When the Air Force wore BDU’s, they also wore patches to designate special duties and units, like this:
When the Air Force transitioned to the ABU however, the pocket patches went away and have never been worn on the ABU until CAP decided to wear them. Whether or not it looks bad, it is just another step away from the Air Force, and it still contributes to my last point.
This is the one uniform item I am extremely frustrated about with the new CAP ABU. CAP has chosen to keep wearing BLACK boots. Why does this bother me?
Mainly because of two reasons, NHQ’s reason for keeping them is bull, and they make us look like we are wearing a Halloween costume. Go ahead and take a moment to do a quick google search for “Halloween Military Costumes” and count how many costumes you see with modern digital camo and black boots… I’ll go ahead and save you some time and give you one such image:
As for NHQ’s reason for not switching to sage boots: “they are too expensive.” I’m sorry but no… just no. Maybe over all they cost a few more dollars than black boots but that money is saved by the free ABU pants and blouses being handed out all across the country, not to mention some ABU boots can be pretty cheap. I picked up a pair of sage steel toe winter boots for $50 and wear them to work on the flight line all winter long.
Not to mention the Air Force issued me 6 pairs of boots and I only wear two of them. Multiply that by a few thousand Airmen out there who might be willing to donate the boots they never wear and you’d have yourself enough to supply all of CAP! I’ve got 4 pair ready to hand out right now! And what about those of us that already have sage boots… if cost is really the official reason, why not have the mandatory wear date of 2021 be the mandatory wear date for sage boots and allow us to wear them when we can get them until then?
Correct me if I’m wrong… but we have begun the phase in correct? Wasn’t the official date like June 15 2016 or something like that? I don’t know, call me crazy, but I could have sworn that was the official date released by NHQ? Oh it was? Then why exactly is NHQ telling every NCSA this year that we can’t wear the ABU? Isn’t that what a PHASE IN PERIOD is for? If they wanted us to wait another year to start wearing it… why start phasing it in this year?
A few of my other friends have told me it makes sense and the reason is because they want the activities to look standardized, especially high visibility ones like National Blue Beret… but I’m sorry, it’s a PHASE IN period… do I have to explain to you what “phase in” means? It means guess what… we aren’t going to be exactly standardized for the next few years, people will be wearing different uniforms, this is a reality we have to accept. And if standardizing the uniform is so important this year, why wouldn’t it be next year? Or the year after that? It’s not going to become any less important as the years go on… Come on NHQ, do you even know what you’re doing?
CAP’s UNIFORM HAS BECOME A WALKING JOKE
At a time when CAP’s members are proudest to be as close to our parent organization, the U.S. Air Force, as we are. A time when our organization of professional volunteers is beginning to finally gain real credibility with the USAF, and being welcomed in to the Total Force plan… our leadership and uniform committee has pushed us the farthest away we have ever visually been from the USAF. They constantly pull the “differentiate” card. Guess what, our name tapes alone differentiate us from the military… add a colorful patch here, a pretty hat there, some ugly boots everywhere and now you’re just over doing it. Our uniform has become a clown outfit, and it’s embarrassing.
Why? Just show a picture of our new ABU uniform to anyone who is currently serving in the Air Force. Believe me, as a member of the Air Force, myself and my fellow Airmen agree, we already have a lot of problems with our organization and leadership. We are not happy with the way our Air Force is headed… and we don’t need CAP’s idiotic uniform to drag us down any farther. I took some time to show off pictures of our new uniform to my fellow co-workers, Airmen, Junior NCO’s, Senior NCO’s and Officers, and the immediate reaction from EVERYONE, without fail I mean EVERYONE, was extremely negative.
In fact, most people I spoke to in my Air Force unit would prefer CAP to wear ABU name tapes and subdued insignia. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT!? It’s time to seriously rethink where you are taking us… I mean dragging us… and the entire Air Force. Because our joke uniform is not only embarrassing for us, but it’s embarrassing for the Air Force too.
I’m begging you to stop… take a step back, rethink this ABU thing and make some good decisions for a change.
And I have one final added request for NHQ. The decisions you make may not need to be justified, after all, it’s not really our job as members to question the decisions of our highest command, but this one time, I’m politely asking that a statement describing the reasons for some of these decisions and future plans for the uniform be published to explain to us why, and where we are going. With this new uniform our membership is left confused and frustrated at the moment, we just want some answers, that is all.