Air Force Blues

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Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christina Brownlow

General Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, in his new ceremonial uniform.

The amount of discussion you get on various military topics depends on how many folks are “read into” – aware of, and knowledgeable (usually) about – any given program or subject.

That’s why you hear so little debate on the Pentagon’s nuclear war-fighting plans, and so much about military uniforms.

The Air Force is the latest service to get its silver braid wrapped around the axle. It seems the new Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh, rolled out a new ceremonial uniform recently, and return fire from the readers of Air Force Magazine hasn’t been kind.

“Ditch the zoot suit,” one reader wrote in the magazine’s just-published December issue. “General Welsh looks like a Russian crown prince at an embassy ball. What is it? Come on, General LeMay would never wear that!!”

“It appears the general is or was a member of the Air Force Band,” another opined. “Thank God I retired in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel.”

“What is General Mark Welsh wearing?” another retired officer wondered. “It looks like a costume out of a 1920s musical comedy. Or is he trying to compete with the Army for ridiculous dress? What has happened to the plain blue suit?”

Cheap shot at the Army. The Air Force has actually been through this before. Twenty years ago, Welsh’s predecessor, General Merrill McPeak, generated howls of fashionista outrage throughout the service when he introduced a stripped-down uniform that pilots complained made them look like they were flying for Delta instead of the U.S. Air Force.

McPeak’s threads lasted only as long as he did. A week after he left office in 1994, his successor, General Ronald Fogleman, restored much of the pre-McPeak look.