The uniform you wear -- symbolism or substance

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Bacon
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron commander
As you walk around Vance AFB you will notice various uniforms that people wear. There is the predominate flight suit, or "bag," that is worn by those associated with flying in airplanes.

You will also see our Air Force blues on Mondays, the new Airman Battle Uniform and those still clinging to their Battle Dress Uniforms. In our civilian and contract workforce you will see security uniforms at the front gate, fire department uniforms and contractor uniforms of various types and descriptions. Even our non-uniformed government employees follow a dress code appropriate for their job and station in life.

Why all the uniforms? What is their purpose? The American Heritage Dictionary defines uniform as "a distinctive outfit intended to identify those who wear it as members of a specific group."

As United States military members we first identify ourselves as Americans, citizens of a nation that is 234 years old and known for its democratic ideals, personal freedoms and charity abroad.

Second, our uniforms identify the service we joined. Vance has representatives from the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Each has a heritage and traditions that make them unique and their members proud to be associated with that service.

Uniforms also show our profession and career path via various devices and symbols of rank. Those that fly can also display their association with various squadrons or organizations by wearing patches on their sleeves. In the end, if one is knowledgeable in military history and service, he can tell a lot about the person wearing a specific uniform based on symbolism.

What makes the uniform you wear different from the one worn by your peers? In a world of uniformity what makes you unique? Symbolically, it is your name tag. Your name separates you from the rest. It is distinctly you, or in other words, your substance. The American Heritage Dictionary defines substance as "that which is solid or real; reality as opposed to appearance."

Are you the person of substance that is symbolized by the uniform you wear? Or, are you all show and no go? Did you join the military because you fell in love with the military image or perceived status it brings or did you join because of your love of country and desire to serve?

Unfortunately, we have many tests and measures to assess a person's aptitude for military service but only time will tell us who the person or substance is behind the name.

Let me encourage those that are new to the military to look beyond the "wedding" of joining and start working through the "marriage" of service. Demonstrate that the man or woman behind the name tag is a person of character and not just someone that can demonstrate certain character traits on demand.

Know what your core values are and what your mission statement is. Know your purpose in life and in service to your country, your military branch, your profession and your family and friends.

Let me challenge those of us that have been in uniform for several years to reassess ourselves to see if our motives for wearing the uniform are true and reflect a singleness of purpose to support and defend and to be role models for those that follow in our service to country.

May the name tags we wear reflect the substance we possess and proudly support the symbolism we wear on our uniforms each and every day.