A “Z-moment” for the Air Force top airfolk

It seems that U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff and his general minions in the USAF bureaucracy recently had a “Zumwalt moment.”

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III recently approved sort of a “Casual Friday” when it comes to certain physical training (PT) attire, according to Stars and Stripes. The newspaper is a worldwide, independent publication run by the Defense Department. Colorful shoes or “moral T-shirts,” the latter of which was worn to help build unit pride, as well as unit patches are among the items which will be okay for exercising airmen and airwomen. I think they are all called “airmen.” Perhaps for a more PC term the collective could be changed to “airpeople” or “airfolks,” the last being a play on words with Air Force. Get it? No?

While subtle changes to help Air Force personnel feel better about what they do and what they’ve accomplished, the reg rewrites pale in comparison with the sweeping Navy reforms of the early 1970s instituted by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt. Bud. Hmm, I don’t think I could ever call such a historic figure and military leader “Bud.” But I might. Bear in mind that Admiral Zumwalt passed died 14 years ago, making such ridiculousness moot.

Zumwalt was going out as CNO just as I was coming in. Almost to the day. He was never my CNO. That was Adm. James L. Holloway III. A.k.a.Trey. No, I was just joking about the nickname. Holloway, had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In Navy speak: “He was around so long that he remembered when Jesus was just a mess cook.”

Beyond a doubt, Zumwalt made some major changes during his tenure as the Vietnam war was winding down. Morale was low and would continue that way for awhile. Zumwalt put beer in barracks vending machine. He had what someone apparently thought was more modern styles of uniforms introduced, doing away with the “Cracker Jacks,” so called because they reminded one of a Florida redneck with a jacked-up pickup off which he was to steal a tire. No, you should know by now that wasn’t the reason for the uniform’s moniker. They were so called because of the little sailor on the Cracker Jack box. Beards were likewise allowed. In the Navy beards were allowed, not on the Cracker Jack box.

Some sailors feel Zumwalt went too far. This opinion was especially held by some of those men who would light up the beer machine at 0630, these were a small part of the career Navy men or “lifer,” as they were so named in an invective.

I recently used a picture where I wore a beard during my promotion to Petty Officer Third Class — minus my commanding officer — as an example for a question I asked a Facebook group. The group is for Navy veterans. I say the overwhelming majority liked growing or would have liked to grow a beard when they were allowed. Even some of the women veterans seemed to mostly like them. One reply, not from a woman, was especially dripping with scorn. Yes, he was a scorn dripper, Sunday driver yeah, It took him soooo long … Sorry. A Beatle  flashback. The scorn dripper said:

 “Zumwalt was the worst thing EVER to Hit the Navy. He screwed us so bad.”

To each his or her own.

Many military uniform regulations are just plain ridiculous. Though I had yet to sail the seas, I initially found a cultural clash between “fleet types” like me and Seabees while stationed on a Seabee base. Seabees could go off base in their, then, green utility uniforms or fatigues. Those of us wearing a blue jumper or dungarees had to change before leaving or wear a dress or semi-dress uniform. A storekeeper I knew gave me a nice, comfy foul-weather coat. It was green, with the Seabee patch. A guy, like a “bouncer” in the dining hall wouldn’t let me in until I finally made some Seabee friends and surrounded myself with them.

Flip-flops and frayed jeans were popular then, I guess they still are in some respects, but the officer of the deck or petty officer of the watch would often not allow a sailor off the ship for liberty with such attire. I always ignored their breach of dress etiquette when I stood the latter. In some places, mostly where great numbers of sailors were on liberty such as in Subic Bay, there were actually Shore Patrol who wrote “tickets” for wearing flip-flops or such.

So these changes in Air Force wear — although I imagine some “old-timers,” now 30-somethings, burn with indignation — are one step toward eliminating the ever-present hard ass culture of the military. I mean, it’s not exactly having breakfast in bed served to new recruits or mints on their pillows.