New AF Dress Coat Left Flapping in the Wind

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It could just be that the Air Force is entering an era that, in part, will be defined by what will not be a hot-button issue: uniforms.

"First things first," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz responded Sept. 17 when asked by Military.com whether uniforms -- new ones or modifications to current dress -- will be relegated to the back burner during his tenure.

Schwartz, who had just listened as his major command chiefs offered up a list of things the Air Force needs today-right-now-thank-you-very much -- including new tankers, more manpower, new tankers, upgrades and maintenance to mobility and fighter planes and, oh yeah, new tankers -- said the Air Force has any number of critical programs it must tackle.

Maybe, at some point down the road, when these other things have been taken care of, he said, uniforms may again be on the agenda.

For now, Schwartz does have to deal with proposed uniform changes that he inherited, including the adoption of a new service dress uniform modeled after one worn by legendary airman Hap Arnold.

The Air Force has a long record of changing or tweaking its uniforms. Acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley made a humorous reference to this fact on Monday, the opening day of the Air Force Association's Air and Space Symposium in Washington, D.C. The Air Force dress uniform only recently underwent a change, with the addition of a belt to the jacket, and Donley noted that the last time he worked for the Air Force, as an assistant secretary and then acting secretary in 1993, the uniform went through major changes under then Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak.

He said he would answer questions today about uniforms the same way he answered them back then: "Ask the chief."

Schwartz last month decided to defer until sometime next year a decision on a Hap Arnold-esque service coat. The proposed jacket came out of a 2006 uniform board under Schwartz's predecessor, Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

Some uniform changes have been greeted critically by airmen -- including a proposed blue cammie BDU several years ago -- who argue that the Air Force has more important issues facing it than whether it should have a belt on a service dress jacket or whether BDUs should come with a permanent crease.

The proposed new dress jacket will cost about $125 million to manufacture if it's approved, the Air Force estimated.

-- Bryant Jordan

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