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I’m going to miss the uniform

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Zacarias Costilla
  • Air Force Network Integration Center
I have often wondered how much of our uniform traditions were arbitrary decisions and how many had meaningful purpose. As I faced retirement, I found myself looking forward to the day I would not have to go to work in a military uniform.

Now I have a new perspective.

Two months ago I got sick. After two hospitalizations and subsequent convalescent leaves, I found myself not putting on my uniform or going to work for 51 days. I'm not writing for sympathy, I'm on the better end of it all now and things are returning to normal.
It's just that after going so long without wearing my uniform and going to my assigned place of duty, I got a chance to appreciate being in the Air Force in a way I hadn't before.

I got a glimpse of what retirement will be like in advance. I used to wonder how much I'd really miss and how much I would be glad to leave behind. Now I have an idea, and I realize it won't be as easy as I thought it would.

Today, as I put my uniform, I am grateful for the next few months that I get to wear it. I have a sense of camaraderie. Everyone who wears the uniform has a similar sense of military culture and it helps us identify with each other.

It also tells the world who we are. The dignity of our uniform has a great impact on the military image perceived by the community around us, across our country in general, and by the members of foreign nations with which we may have the opportunity to interact.

It provides structure by identifying our rank. It tells the area of our expertise through our functional badges, as well as special badges and shields for specific duties or locations.

Our uniform, therefore, instills confidence in others that we are able to carry out our duties and helps us to trust those who are superior in rank, knowing that they have earned that respect through hard effort and service to our nation.

The standardization of our uniform teaches attention to detail from the earliest days we began to put it on as trainees. We are no longer individuals, but Airmen who have undertaken service to our country. We cannot afford to think we can start down the slippery slope of allowing what we consider minor deviations from military standards.

In 20 years of service, I have never seen where relaxing the standards improved any of us.

Instead, I have witnessed how one small compromise of integrity often leads to another, and becomes an obstacle to personal growth and hinders the mission.

There was a time when I used to think that how I wore my uniform mattered very little. I know better than that now.

I also used to think when I retired from the Air Force I wouldn't look back--that not having to wear the uniform any longer was something that I would have earned and could be proud of.

What a difference 51 days can make. I am still looking forward to retirement, but now I know how much I will miss it. I now wear it with more pride than I ever had and look forward to putting it on these few remaining months I have left.

When the time comes to take it off for the last time, I'll know there are others still wearing it still performing their duties as professional as ever. I'll see it in their uniforms and recall the memories of my time in the service with joy.