An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | March 7, 2014

Professional military image

By Chief Master Sgt. Mauree Powell 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

After a Tuesday morning First Sergeant Council meeting, I was approached by two first sergeants with several great questions and a few awesome points to ponder. However, one particular question stood out and made me think. The question was, "What does professional military image look like?"

This particular question was in reference to the Fitness Program Air Force Instruction 36-2905, paragraph 9.2 - (Failing to Present a Professional Military Image While in Uniform). This had me wondering if there was any objective guidance that governed what constitutes what a professional military image looked like, or was the criteria subjective based on each individual opinion. So began my quest.

My research began with a review of several AFIs that I thought would help determine what constitutes what professional military image looked like. Air Force Standards, AFI 1-1, and Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, discusses basic philosophy and enforceability. These AFIs outline the five elements of standards as, "neatness, cleanliness, safety, uniformity, and military image." The first four elements are objective in nature; an Airman's appearance will dictate whether they are within standards. However, the fifth element, military image, is subjective, but necessary, per AFI 36-2903. AFI 1-1 also denotes military image as being subjective, however it goes on to state, "it is critical because other people, both military and civilian, draw certain conclusions about individual Airmen and the Air Force based on what they see." These AFIs discuss personal grooming standards along with other standards that can be corrected on sight, such as eating and drinking in uniform, smoking and chewing tobacco in non-designated areas and hands in pockets just to name a few. But, nothing outlines what professional military image looks like.

As stated earlier, AFI 36-2905, paragraph 9.2 makes reference to "Failing to Present a Professional Military Image While in Uniform." It goes on to state commanders have the discretion to require individuals who do not present a professional military appearance (regardless of overall FA composite score) to participate in fitness education and intervention programs/activities. But, again, nothing about what professional military image looks like.

My last attempt at figuring out what professional military image looks like was to ask several members of my squadron, both military and civilian. All the answers I received pointed to the five elemental standards. However, when asked, what does professional military image look like, no one really seemed to have an answer.
I received puzzled looks, as well as a response that it was too subjective to define. Others said it looks like you (the individual) right after Basic Military Training graduation. While interesting, I was not satisfied with what I was able to gather, so, I decided to call it quits and sleep on it.

On the way home that evening I had to stop and put gas in my vehicle. As I stood there, an older gentleman pulled up beside me to fill his vehicle as well. He asked about my rank, so I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. He said joining the military was never an option for him, because he was needed at home. I saw this as my opportunity to get his perspective on what professional military image looks like.

He paused for a moment and then provided me with this perspective: "A military professional wears their uniform with pride ... they care about how they look and their image to others. Not only do they look the part, they act the part. Their look says they can take on any task with positive results; they exude confidence that brings ease to the civilian populace. They look fit, a look that says they are ready for combat whenever or wherever."

He went on to say, he can pick out military members in civilian clothes, because he knows to them, it is not just a job, it is a calling, a profession.

What does professional military image look like to you?