New Air Force Commander Clamps Down On Dress And Grooming

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Yesterday, the U.S. Air Force’s new head of Air Combat Command (ACC) announced he will give all wings under his authority one month to ensure all airmen adhere to the USAF’s latest dress and grooming standards. Wilsbach said while he believes most personnel adhere to standards, he is “concerned by a discernable decline” in the more than 157,000 uniformed and civilian employees and troops’ commitment to enforcing the rules.

Wilsbach’s command oversees 28 wings worldwide, including more than 260 locations. Specialists served by the command include those operating fighter and intelligence-collection aircraft, cyber warfare specialists and more—in North and South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Wilsbach wrote in the June 10 memo, “As an all-volunteer force, we willingly relinquish a portion of our individual freedoms in order to be part of an elite team. An essential element to being part of this elite team is the high standards we hold as an institution. Adherence to higher standards of conduct, dress and appearance, physical fitness, and the observance of customs and courtesies are critical to our identity as military members.”

According to the June 10 memo, ACC wing leaders have until July 17 to complete and report their inspection results.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

60 COMMENTS

  1. Maintaining discipline is good. Glad he’s instilling a little pride into the uniform.

    A gal showed up for work at our tech company in her flannel pajamas pants and a hello kitty t-shirt. Watch a show from the 60’s like Man Men when both men and women were well dressed for work or the occasion. People wear T-shirts to weddings.

    • Nothing wrong with discipline, but often a side effect of this is having an organization filled with yes-men and butt-kissers. I think that was well illustrated in many of those Mad Men episodes.

      Those who think out of the box and are willing to take chances on new ideas are pushed out.
      These days, that girl in the hello kitty t-shirt may have an idea that makes the company millions of dollars. Or most likely, she will leave and make millions for the company she starts.

      • I think there’s something to be said for discipline and strict dress codes. Back in those days of “yes-men and butt-kissers”, the US won two world wars and put men on the moon. We were the leader in industries such as aviation, space, agriculture, education, and medicine. What have we done in the age of Hello Kitty t-shirts that can compare to that?

        • Oh I don’t know, how about the personal computer, the Internet, the WorldWideWeb, unrefueled circumnavigation of the Earth, and the cellphone that you might have used to make that “grumpy old man” post?

          Besides, “correlation does not imply causation” is a universal truth. Perhaps Gen. Wilsbach should require only half of his wings to conform to the stricter grooming standard, and see which ones actually perform better. My bet is that it’ll be a wash.

  2. As a former ’70’s Army SSG Infantryman I totally agree with GEN Wilsbach. It’s a uniformed service and there should be an emphasis on proper military dress and grooming.

  3. Adherence to AF dress code and grooming Instructions / standards is paramount to the esprit de corps of this Branch of Service as it is for all Branches.
    Props to Gen Wilsbach.

  4. I spent 4 years active duty in USAF as an enlisted airman during the Vietnam war. I was stationed at Clark AFB in the Philippines and TDY to Vietnam. There were some epic handlebar mustaches but not long hair or beards and the women were dressed respectably. I think personal appearance standards have decreased over the years with tattoos, piercings, hair and beards. It’s a question of public respect for the uniform and the soldier. We had a lot of trouble with that during Vietnam. There’s no need to make that harder by looking ratty.

    • I was Clark also mid ’60s. This issue requires a fine balance. Yes, we should be neat and tidy both self and uniform. But when the need for that begins to be overriding in importance of job functions, then common sense by leadership must balance the issue. It’s not an easy answer. But it’s a uniformed organization with certain appearance expectations. Love my USAF.

  5. As a USAF retiree, I applaud this move … however … the General has little say over USAF civil service civilian employee dress or grooming standards. The ONLY exceptions would be dress standards for specific jobs. E.G., people working on airplanes might be required to wear full length pants vs shorts. Or, the wear of safety related gear. A few people might fly w/ masks requiring no beard. Maybe a suit and tie for some higher-level jobs.

    • There are no published standards for civilian employees beyond normal business, job-specific and professional guidelines.

  6. As a 26-year veteran of the USAF, I have seen this same pattern several times over my career. After every major conflict, leadership feels the need to “tighten up” dress and grooming standards. Apparently, those in charge feel that standards slip during times when people are needed to fill positions in jobs and locations that are “undesirable.” When the conflict is over, those who do not conform are asked to leave.

    Frist, let me make it clear that I do not condone sloppy, unkept uniforms and a lack of personal care, hygiene, and grooming. However, spit-and-polish do not always make good soldiers and airmen. During my career in the military, all in aircraft maintenance, I came across many people. I have seen those that were “spit and polish” types and adhering to all the regulations but were dumb as a box of hammers. These people often impressed commanders and managers because they followed all the rules despite being average or mediocre performers. I also knew those who were brilliant in their jobs but always seemed to have problems when their hair or mustache got a little long or their uniforms were not pressed properly. Most of these people, as valuable as they were, did not impress their leaders and often did not stay in the military. In many cases, this was a great loss of experience and training for the military. This issue does not just affect maintenance people, how many good pilots have left the military due to issues like this?

    I was lucky enough to also have a civilian career after leaving the military. As a manager in a technical organization, I hired the best, most technically adept, and dependable people, despite their appearance. A beard and bushy mustache does not keep a technician from being a good problem solver and technically adept.

    Spit-and -polish does not always make the best warriors, technicians, or mechanics.
    After all, who would you want to work on your aircraft – the spit-and-polish mechanic who barely passed his A&P, or the bearded guy who knows his stuff and could have written the book on aircraft maintenance?

    • I could not agree more, GJ. It’s easier to manage by the reflection in the shoes and the stiffness of the back when seated, so that’s what a lot of managers do. Give me the grumpy, frumpy, graybeard every time.

  7. I have seen this unimaginative action of new commanders many times during my 34 year career in the Air Force. As a senior officer, I would be much more impressed by a new commander with the substantial innovative insight of General Robin Olds or Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in the Navy.

    • Agreed. The military needs to attract ambitious, smart, and innovative people at all levels to move the military forward. These types of people are often repelled by this spit-and-polish thinking of the last century.

      Marching in formation and spit-and-polish may be fine for basic training but after that, it is of little use in the technical software-driven cyber warfare of today and the future.

  8. Do the new regulations apply also to the drag queens our military uses to recruit new people? One used to pay to see the tattooed men and women at freak shows at the state fair. Now just look at our soldiers. I live near Ft. Bragg. Military personnel appearance is appalling, men and women. No wonder they can’t reach their recruiting quotas.

    • Put up or shut up. Show us drag queens used to recruit. Also, assuming there are ANY, tell us how ANY CIVILIAN has to ascribe to military standards, or at least show us the authority that demands it.

      • At the risk of wading into a digital food fight, I’ll refer you to one Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley (a.k.a. “Harpy Daniels”), former “Digital Ambassador” for the U.S. Navy. From the New York Post article “US Navy Hires Active-Duty Drag Queen to be Face of Recruitment Drive” (3 May 2023), “Kelley, who identifies as non-binary, was appointed as the first of five Navy Digital Ambassadors in a pilot program that ran from October to March.” I’ll leave it to you to search for the photos of Harpy’s apparent performance aboard a vessel with uniformed Navy personnel in the background.

    • Another mindless, air-headed, drivel-laden comment, devoid of even minor value. I agree with Chuck. Do tell us when, where, and what recruiters you’ve identified that use drag queens.

          • There is no doubt in questioning Kent’s talent as an engineer. Those who know his work know it’s great. It does not excuse his blatant bigotry. He can’t seem to accept any views other than his closed minded ones, and wants everyone here to know it.

    • Just the members in the Highland regiments. 🙂

      Cross-dressing in the military has a long, distinguished, and (mostly) harmless history. Until the academies went co-eds, male cadets would dress as women for theatrical productions. No one seemed to think this was immoral. Same for the amateur theatricals in POW camps in Germany.

      And let’s not forget the “crossing the line” ceremonies in the US Navy, where a young beardless seaman would don a wig and strap a pair of coconuts across his chest to represent King Neptune’s bride, the goddess Thetis.

  9. By all means, focus on the little problems. Let the big problems take care of themselves.

    • As others have pointed out, this is a “low hanging fruit” that a new commander can target that looks good and gets all the higher brass and retirees nodding.

      While I’ve posted support for relaxed grooming standards in the two previous times this subject has come up, I do believe that what standards are THERE should be followed.

      Unfortunately, the Air Force is stuck with an archaic military structure. What worked from Cromwell’s New Model Army doesn’t really fit what the Air Force has to do. It doesn’t have legions of ill-educated cannon fodder to control (“I don’t know if they frighten the enemy, but they certainly frighten me”), the Non-Commissioned Officers aren’t “file closers” whose job it is to plug replacements into the ranks when enemy fire rips through the ill-educated cannon fodder or to kill men who turn and run, and the officers are the only ones who are actually combating the enemy while the enlisted men and NCOs cheer from the sidelines.

  10. The Air Force has gone through several unfortunate uniform evolutions; older vets probably recall the “1505” summer uniforms that featured the bush jacket which always looked like c++p at best and supposedly had been the creation of a high-ranked general’s wife. Don’t recall who.

    • When I enlisted in 1974, that was many years in the past. Can you address something more current?

    • One year at Edwards AFB, all of in a certain area decided to get our 1505 uniform pants turned into shorts (authorized — then — by AFR 35-10) and wear knee socks and pith helmets. We looked like Aussies 🙂

  11. Nothing hateful about it. It’s the military, not the circus. If you’re male and want to wear a dress or skirt, petition to change the uniform code or join a convent. But don’t expect it to be the new normal….because it isn’t!

  12. vspeed96480, I take offense referring to the men and women in the USAF, as a joke. Do you use GPS? It was courtesy of the USAF for decades before the USSF was created. They also are scrambled whenever our peer adversaries approach our shores, which happens relatively frequently. The USAF is in every arena of conflict, anywhere in the world, at any given time, and ready to battle when called upon….not only crew, but support that keeps everything operational, from intel to chow. They volunteered. Even if you join a church choir, you don’t just walk in and say, “I don’t want to perform or practice that music. And I sure am not going to wear a red robe.” Appearance is a first impression, and then you back it up with your knowledge. It is self respect and in a military service, a representation of the whole.

    I have not worn the Blue, but I have been volunteering for the USAF & now also USSF for 15 years, through the Air & Space Forces Association, as an Airpower Advocate. It has taken me from physically being at the Pentagon to Joint Bases, to weekly tedious meetings on Zoom for quality of life issues to advocating for aircraft. Everything is a work in progress, or there is no progress. But your saying the Air Force is a joke, is an insult to all of us on all levels who volunteered for the Air Force. Make no mistake, it truly is the greatest Air Force on this planet. If need be, there are Airmen who will die for this country, and those who have.

    • Kudos, Susan!
      As a former Air Force E-5, O-3, and pilot, I salute you. It seems a lot of the folks here just want to talk down to everything. You nailed it.

      • Susan and dcmarrota: It is refreshing to see people standing up for our military, and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments.

        Your willingness to come forward shows true courage and patriotism. Thank you for your support!

  13. It’s about time. Has anyone taken the time to really stop and take a look at the current condition of our Airman. Just dive on base, take a good look at the SF personnel on duty, that’s your first impression of the current dress and hair standards. Then take a walk around any Wing/Squadron and observe not only the active duty but also civil servants and contractors. The level of professional dress is clearly lacking. Now I know there are different standards for each but maybe those standards should be reevaluated.

  14. How on earth can any one look smart in a modern uniform like the general is pictured wearing?
    He looks like he is dressed for the garden, and we all know generals never, ever do any base maintenance.
    He should dress himself in a shirt and tie first (and see how he likes it) before he imposes it on others.

  15. My sense is that dress & grooming standards are all part of being on the “same page”, which is something we’d all want if we’re defending ourselves when somebody’s shooting at us.

  16. My personal experience when I served in the Military was that the people who obsessed the most about largely arbitrary dress rules were also in general the least effective leaders and the least respected members of their organization.

    It would seem to me that the USAF has numerous important challenges in their mission to deliver lethal effects when so ordered. How shiny ones boots are doesn’t make you more lethal and the only thing the bad actors of this world respect is the ability to deliver overwhelming hurt to bad guys anywhere, anytime.

    I would suggest the General focus on the actioning USAF core missions.

    • So the General comes out with an announcement that he wants the Air Force to adhere to 35-10 and everyone thinks this is his sole and primary mission? Lol.
      Talk about knee jerk reaction.
      As a fighter pilot in the Air Force we didn’t spit shine our flight boots and we wore our flight suits all the time. There was never a time when that was not appropriate.
      Sorry Larry, but my Air Force blues were the misfitting uniform that was issued to me in ROTC.
      We did adhere to 35-10 for the most part (98%) and all physical requirements.
      That’s all this is is to stress that the Air Force has minimum standards and they will be enforced.
      That’s not that hard to do.

  17. We live in the free world. Free doesn’t mean free to do anything your heart desires. It really means “free” to be a member of a responsible society of people who value this as much as anyone. A part of that is a requirement for the government to display that dictum. The Armed Services in North America and Nato clearly understand that need. If you must display your “individuality” to everyone then you also have a need to display your commitment to the rest of us in the “free world” if you’re going to be part of the solution to tyranny. We can’t all sit behind a machine gun when the occasion arises, but we have our pitchforks. As a pitchfork carrier I don’t wear a uniform but I still consider our appearance to reflect the importance of the task of defence. Wear your uniform with pride and the knowledge that most of us admire your commitment to freedom and peace.

  18. It’s time to muster up! All branches of the armed services need men who want to be men. There is no room for men who want to be women and women who want to be men must meet the same standard as men.

  19. Too little too late. The Air Force along with all of the other services have become a laughing stock. Just look at the people they send a testify before Congress and this tells you everything you need to know. You can’t fix this by enforcing standards when you’ve let the enemy invade your ranks. This is like putting frosting on a brick and calling it a cake.

  20. Dress for success. Your dress for work, has a lot to do with your attitude for the day. For me, when piloting for work, we dressed in business suites and ties. Our attitude was noticed by both the passengers as well as the FBO staff that we worked with. Many places we flew into, we heard from the front desk, we should have our pilots dress as professional as this crew. When I worked on the shop floor, we had a dress code for the shop. No beards, no long hair past the collar., and company uniform. Either comply or find another job has been the company policy since 1966.

  21. I’d bet I could pick out the commenters who served in the military and those who didn’t. Likewise, I’d bet I could pick the age of the commenter based upon what they wrote.

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