“Do you have training this weekend or something?”
“Do you like being in the Army?”
“You look so cute in your outfit.”
“Why do you only wear it on Fridays?”
“Wait, no one checks on you? But you still wear it?”
“You owe how long after graduating? SIX years? Wow…that’s cool, I guess.”
These are all things I’ve heard since August because, yes! I wear my Air Force uniform every Friday. And I get some odd looks every time.
Admittedly, I don’t wear my uniform out of sheer patriotism. It’s a requirement for both my program and my unit. The regulation for FLEP* states that “AFIT* students, except those outside the CONUS,* will wear the uniform one-day per week unless otherwise specified.” As far as I know, I haven’t been otherwise specified. The Friday part comes from my Harvard ROTC* unit, who (per the same regulation) “designates the day for uniform wear.” The unit picked Friday for everyone involved, so now I’m in a uniform whenever I’m on campus and it’s a Friday!
The uniform requirement is half a recruiting tool, half a “don’t-forget-you’re-in-the-military” reminder. And I must say, it’s working! I’ve been approached by a woman with a son thinking about law and the military, had lunch with a fellow 1L thinking about JAG, and been asked multiple times how my program works. (When they learn my school is paid for WHILE I’m getting paid, there’s alway a half-second of, “oh…that sounds like a good deal…”) Plus, routinely wearing a uniform keeps my nails and earrings in check!
When I first got into FLEP, I vaguely knew about the uniform requirement. I expected to wear an Air Force uniform called “Blues,” which is basically the Air Force’s version of business dress. Blues are, you guessed it, several shades of blue. And not super flattering.
But the regulation doesn’t specify! I can actually wear whatever uniform I want, as long as it’s a regular duty uniform (No wearing the PT gear, unfortunately). I personally wear my OCPs,* which is the traditional ‘camo’ uniform usually seen in recruiting commercials and “I-just-got-home-from-deployment” videos. (If you don’t know what I mean, watch this & be ready to cry your eyes out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fF-TJPzgck. The second guy is in OCPs and the third guy is in ABUs!)
I’ll wear the OCPs in my day-to-day as a JAG.* It’s actually an Army uniform, but the entire Air Force will wear it by 2021. We’re changing from the formerly-Air Force specific ABUs* (pictured left) to the OCPs (pictured right). The Army is still wearing OCPs, and I believe the switch is intended to make us look like a more “uniform” armed force (no pun intended, but here we are). Also, Airmen have already been wearing OCPs on deployment for years! It just makes sense to have us all wear the same thing.
I personally love the new uniform. My ABUs are HUGE – when I got them back in 2012, I’m pretty sure women’s sizes didn’t exist. My OCPs, on the other hand, are specifically cut for women and DON’T add thirty pounds to my figure. Hallelujah. They’re also more comfortable and honestly, just cooler. I’m NOT SAYING THE ARMY IS COOLER THAN THE AIR FORCE – they aren’t. It’s strictly the uniforms.
Unfortunately, my future as a JAG isn’t 100% camouflaged fun. On days in court, I’ll be in service dress – the elevated version of blues, and the equivalent of a full business suit.
On the whole, I don’t mind wearing my uniform. It’s not uncomfortable and it’s only for a few hours a week! The biggest inconveniences are just normal restrictions of uniform wear; not wearing headphones, not walking and checking my phone, wearing small earrings, ensuring my hair is neatly tucked into a bun, and putting a little extra effort into my make-up to prove that I am, in fact, a girl. Honestly, check out this tweet from last week – it had me rolling:
No, physically wearing the uniform isn’t hard. What CAN be difficult are some of the connotations and assumptions that go along with the uniform….and I’m not talking about the post above.
I am acutely aware of my liberal surroundings. I’m aware that people in my classes are anti-police, anti-prison, anti-gov’t institutions in general – and I’m a member of the largest one. I’m aware, at ALL times, of who my Commander-in-Chief is. Every time we read a case about military personnel committing crimes, I cringe a little. Every time the military is brought up in class, I go on red alert because I feel like everyone’s looking at me. Rationally, I know that’s not the case. But I’m terrified of being asked a question I can’t answer, in case it reflects poorly on the military as a whole.
Now, I want to be clear – no one has ever been mean or rude to me. I’ve gotten a few off-color comments, and just ignored them (they said a lot more about the commentators than they said about me). But I am VERY conscious of my statements and attitudes in class, knowing I’m a direct link to the military and might be the only uniformed service member my classmates ever encounter.
As I’ve said, wearing my uniform is required – but there’s no one to check up on me. I see my ROTC unit about once a semester, and I’m the only one walking around in camouflage on the HLS campus. When people discover this, they always ask why I still wear it.
First, it’s a reg. Simple as that! The Air Force said to do something, so I’m doing it.
Second, I feel strongly that it’s the least I could do. I live in an amazing city WITH my husband; I get a full officer paycheck and a Boston housing allowance; and my $300K+ Harvard legal education is covered. Yes, I’ll serve six years for it, but – I’m beyond grateful. To me, wearing my uniform denotes that gratitude.
Third, I’m PROUD to be in the military! I love it when people ask questions about my service, or the uniform, or my job after law school. I’ll probably never welcome the weird stares, but I take pride in knowing I represent an unfamiliar sector of the population, and all of our beautiful women soldiers.
Fourth, I like to think that I’m in a unique position to influence people’s perception of the military. I get to meet people while wearing normal clothes, with my hair down and a huge smile, before I see them again in a (puzzling? odd? unfamiliar? threatening?) uniform with the same smile in place. I’m a normal person! I welcome questions, I’m respectful and nice, I work hard, and I’m always willing to hear other people’s views and improve myself.
So, no – I don’t have training this weekend. I’m actually not in the Army, but I love being in the Air Force! I take pride in wearing a uniform, but you can call it whatever you like. Yes, I have to wear it; no, they don’t check. Yes…I still wear it. Sure, I owe six years – but I think that’s REALLY cool, and I’m happy to do it. Thanks for asking!
*FLEP = Funded Legal Education Program, AFIT = Air Force Institute of Technology, ROTC = Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, CONUS = continental United States, OCPs = Operational Camouflage Pattern, JAG = Judge Advocate General, ABU = Airman Battle Uniform. For more information about FLEP, check out this post: https://rileyv.com/index.php/2019/08/03/funded-legal-education-program/.