It is nearly impossible to live where I live and not see and extraordinary number of military personnel. Living in such close proximity to the Pentagon, Fort Meyer, Henderson Hall, The NAvy Annex, Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Fort Belvoir (among many others), you can't help but see folks of all of the armed forces, all of the time.
Seeing as many military people as I do, and being a veteran myself, it is easy to spot the differences in military dress uniforms or service uniforms at a glance. The military branches being so different one from the other, you didn't have to think twice about the guy in the white uniform... he was clearly in the Navy. The woman in blue was either Air Force or Coast Guard (and you only needed an extra half-second to figure out which it was). The Marines and the army, despite the fact that they both wear green, are as different as night and day (the army uses a different shade of green than The Corps), the army wearing light green shirts, The Corps' shirts being khaki. Simple, right? Well, maybe not so much.
In the early 1980's, most of our armed forces began to adopt camouflage uniforms for use in the field, or in combat. The army started the ball rolling, with the Marine Corps right alongside... then followed the Navy, and thern, God help us, the Air Force.
In an effort to keep costs down, the services were all using the same "woodland" pattern material... indeed, all of the services we wearing the same camouflage uniform, the only distinction being the insignia. Well, times have changed a bit.
In the early part of the Iraq war (I refuse to call it Operation Iraqi Freedom, because Iraq isn't free, it just has new masters), the Marine Corps adopted a new camouflage pattern. It is a sort of digital print that is very similar to the then-new Canadian armed forces pattern (called Cadpat), the Marine Corps, not to be outdone, calls their pattern Marpat. The United States Army, trying to keep up with the Marine Corps, got rid of the old woodland pattern, and the "chocolate chip" pattern desert uniform, as well as the more recent desert pattern, and came up with their own pattern called "ACU" (Army combat uniform).
OK, you know something? I get the whole "let's have a uniform distinctive to our own service" thing. I do. Having different uniforms certainly goes a long way to establishing military identity... being a veteran of the service with the best looking uniforms AND best combat record has taught me that, but I digress.
Where was I?
Oh, right. Distinctive uniforms. Anyway, the US Air Force, not wanting to be left behind (not a reference to that Tim LaHaye crap), decided the it, too, needed a distinctive camouflage pattern. So, what they did was.... What? What did you say? Did you say "Why in the world does that Air Force need a camouflage uniform?" Is that what you said? Well, fair enough... you know that I like to answer questions when my readers have them. I'll take a whack at it, ok?
Some (albeit very few) members of the Air Force have very good reasons to wear camouflage. For instance, Combat Air Control teams, and Tactical Air Controllers have every reason in the world to wear such uniforms, as they usually operate with army units and spend their time directing forward air strikes and managing air traffic around the battlefield. These men operate wherever the fighting is. They need whatever protection camouflage can provide. Make sense?, good, here are two more great examples: Air Force Para-rescue operators (also known as PJ's): These men are combat rescue operators. They are inserted by helicopter, sometimes by parachute, often in enemy territory to recuse downed aircrew. it is a hard but honorable job. Camouflage is also needed by Air Force Security Forces: These men and women protect air bases. Most importantly, they protect forward-deployed airbases that are still subject to ground attack, they too need the extra protection (not as much, maybe, but there you are).
OK, so the Air Force has some reasons that some of it's personnel should wear camouflage, but this is where it gets sticky and brings me to the point of this post: Most people in the Air Force have no bloody reason to wear camouflage uniforms. I mean, really, I have a neighbor, a lovely young woman, who is a budget analyst for the air national guard, and every time I see her in her freshly starched camouflage uniform (with desert-tan boots) I want to scream. Not that she isn't impeccably turned out (she is), but this is a person who, through her whole career hasn't held a gun, much less gone anywhere near anyone who has fired a shot in anger.
I'm not writing this to rag on my neighbor, but do you have any idea how much it costs you and me to pay for this knee-jerk reaction to what appears to be a shift in military fashion?
There are even MATERNITY camouflage uniforms for the army and air force. Now, I ask you: What kind of sense does that make?, because try as I might, I can't come up with a good answer.