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NEWS | Oct. 25, 2017

Seamlessly changing over time

By Senior Airman Thomas T. Charlton Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Since its inception in 1947, the U.S. Air Force has been known for its capability to evolve as needs around the world change and time progresses.

One thing that has constantly changed over the past 70 years is the Air Force’s uniforms. Some of the first men to join the Air Force, like Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Knerr, former Secretary-General of the Air Board, helped design the first Air Force uniform.

“Does the Air Force want a uniform decorated with devices and gadgets traditional to the military service of the past, or a more subdued uniform adapted to a technical future?” said Knerr.

Uniforms were being drawn up for the Air Force even before it became its own branch. However, a unique uniform wasn’t fully integrated until Sept. 1, 1950, three years after the Air Force’s founding. Prior to the blue uniform, Air Force members wore the “pinks and greens” service dress uniform of the U.S. Army at the time. The Air Force was last permitted to wear the Army dress uniform on June 30, 1952.

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force website, after the Air Force became a separate service, it created new blue uniforms. Even so, Air Force personnel during the Korean War continued to wear U.S. Army uniforms from existing stocks. An interesting result of this uniform change was the nickname "brown-shoe Air Force." The old Army uniform had brown shoes, while the new Air Force blue uniform had black shoes. So, "brown-shoe Air Force" referred to the old U.S. Army Air Forces or to a person who had served in the USAAF.

Just like the dress uniform, the utility uniform has also changed over time but with a more significant purpose. The utilities changed during times of conflict and the environments where the conflict was mostly taking place.

“As I was coming into the Air Force, the Battle Dress Uniform was being implemented and issued to basic training Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Todd Cole, 628th Air Base Wing command chief. “In that time, I saw us go from the BDU’s to our Airman Battle Uniforms we have now. I saw the service dress change into the style we wear today from the McPeak Service Dress, which was the Air Force Service Dress uniform from 1991 to 1994. Minor alterations have been made to every uniform while they were actively in use, but they have each provided a purpose for our Air Force.”

The Air Force has seen more than 10 changes with the service dress uniform, the utility uniform, some variants to the ceremonial mess dress uniform and the implementation of a physical training uniform. Each uniform fulfilled a purpose and has given the Air Force a heritage on which to reflect. Each uniform tells a tale of what was happening during that particular era.

“I think there is something to be said about the heritage of our uniforms,” said Cole. “They all tell a story of what this Air Force has been a part of and it would be amazing to bring some form of a heritage uniform into service. Maybe not something to be worn on a normal basis, but something all Airmen can use for special functions portraying the history of our branch.”

Even as time goes on, the uniforms, people and events in the world will continue to change. The theme for the 70th anniversary of the Air Force is, “Breaking Barriers since 1947.” The theme is a reminder to look to the future while remembering the Air Force’s past.

“It’s important to know your legacy and what the uniform you wear stands for,” said Cole. “To see the service and sacrifices other members have made in our past helps our members today realize the service and sacrifice we need to make to maintain our present and future.”