I love your purse … just not in uniform

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patty Guzman
  • 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron first sergeant
The Air Force uniform carries on a long-standing tradition, one that identifies the person as a member of a historical unit, a close-knit society, quietly assured of his or her competence and professionalism.

When in uniform, you are not only an individual, but representative of the Air Force as a whole. A sharp-looking troop inspires pride in our military, the same pride that you as a member of the armed forces should have when wearing the uniform. An overweight or slovenly military member can show that the person does not have pride in appearance nor in what they represent. Worse, that becomes the image of the Air Force as a whole.

AFI 36-2903 is very specific on what is authorized in wearing the uniform and on personal grooming standards. It further states that to present the proper image, clothing will be neat, clean, pressed, properly fitted, in good condition, zipped, snapped, or buttoned.

I often notice that while many wing members look extremely sharp in uniform, others have forgotten what the uniform and grooming standards represent. Some bristle or even challenge me when I point out the discrepancies. Fortunately, I learned early on in my career that first impressions are lasting and your dress and appearance say a lot about who you are.

Purses, hair and cell phone ear-devices usually catch my attention. While designer purses are great looking, they are not meant to be worn with the uniform. AFI 36-2903 clearly states that hand bags and purses will be "plain black ... without ornamentation;" furthermore, "purse will be no larger than 6½ x 11-inches or smaller than 5x9-inches"; and yet I see a variety of women in uniform, proudly carrying their brand name purses and hand bags, which sometimes exceed the size recommended by regulation.

Cell phone headsets are not part of the uniform, yet I go into offices and members are wearing their headsets while in uniform, in some cases using them while providing customer service. This is unprofessional behavior. AFI 36-2903 clearly states, "Members will not walk in uniform while using cell phones, radios, hands-free headsets unless required in the performance of official duties using a government issued device."

The regulations also state that hair should be "clean, well groomed, and neat;" for females, "hair should not extend below the bottom edge of the collar, hairstyles must allow proper wear of headgear; the minimum length bulk required is 1-inch not to exceed 3-inches in bulk. Hair pins and bands must match hair color." While the AFI is clear on this issue, I continue to see some women wearing hair devices that do not match their hair color, as well as women whose hair extends beyond the collar. The regulation states male hair "may touch the ears and only closely cut or shaved hair on the back of the neck may touch the collar. Hair may not exceed 1¼-inches in bulk, regardless of length nor exceed ¼-inch at the natural termination point."

"Hands in pockets" is another taboo temptation for some uniformed members ... I sometimes jokingly approach the perpetrator and ask if they found what they were looking for, at which point they usually get my message. AFI 36-2903; Section 1.3 clearly states individuals' responsibilities to present a professional image as: Procure and maintain all mandatory clothing items. Review and follow local supplements and procedures. Uniforms will be neat, clean, pressed, buttoned, and properly maintained.
1.3.2. Members will not: Stand or walk with hands in pockets of any uniform combination, other than to insert or
remove items. Walk in uniform while using cell phones, radios, hands-free headsets unless required in
the performance of official duties using a government issued device. Smoke/use smokeless tobaccos, drink, or eat while walking in uniform.

I challenge everyone not only to conform to the standards, but to exceed them. Be proud of what you represent and display it.

(Source AFI 36-2903)