Dress Right, Dress

BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- Recently I participated in an open-ranks inspection with our commander. As I was standing in formation, I noticed many people walking by and staring at us. I could tell they were wondering what we were doing, but nobody stopped to ask, although some did take the time to watch.

Standing there and taking all of this in, I felt proud that we were doing this for our commander. But something was troubling me about the people who were staring. As I thought about why, I started to reflect on my years in the Air Force and about the many different ceremonies I have participated in.

I realized those ceremonies had two types of people: those who participated and those who watched. I wondered what those watching thought about this activity and tried to put myself in their shoes. Were they jealous or did they think we were crazy? Or were they just trying to understand what we were doing? Then it dawned on me that people in the flight, especially the young Airmen, probably wonder the same thing.

The ceremonies we participate in are based on our customs and courtesies. More importantly, they are based on our traditions. Customs and courtesies are defined by Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, as "proven traditions that explain what should and should not be done in many situations." Traditions are defined by American Heritage Dictionary as "the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication."

As I researched material for this article, I found the ceremonies we perform are rooted in history and in some cases date back hundreds of years. For example, a change-of-command ceremony started in the Middle Ages, when it was discovered the troops in the field had no idea who their commander really was. The retreat ceremony can be traced back to the French and was first used by the U.S. Army during the revolutionary war. The list of ceremonies we perform goes on, but all of them are based on traditions -- traditions we should be proud of and continue to maintain.

But still, what do they do for us other than waste time when we could be fixing an aircraft or answering an e-mail?

I remember when I went through the NCO Leadership School and we had to perform and get graded on drill. Each member of my flight would take a turn giving the orders and we would march around a designated area. We all thought drill was a waste of time, but we made it through and we felt great about it.

After we were done, our instructor talked about it and what we should have learned. He discussed how important it was to work together as a team. Nobody could do it by themselves. If those in the formation did not listen to the commands, we would turn the wrong way or run into each other. If the one giving the commands did it at the wrong time, the formation would fall apart. So teamwork was No. 1.

But we also learned about morale and esprit de corps because we had succeeded as a team. That feeling was reinforced by the look of dejection on the faces of flights that did not do so well. Lastly we learned about discipline and how important it is to be successful. These are lessons that are reinforced every time we successfully complete a ceremony.

We are a unique fraternity, unlike any other company in the world. We are designed to fight and win wars and keep our country free. Because of this, we have our own traditions built upon hundreds of years of military history. These ceremonies are just one piece of the overall puzzle, but they are a significant part of building and maintaining a successful military. They touch us at the very core of our unique fraternity.

So the next time you get the opportunity to participate in a retreat, change of command or an open-ranks inspection, take it. Understand it is not about you, but rather it is about "us," the team, building morale, esprit de corps and discipline. Be the first to volunteer and set the example for others to follow in your footsteps. Remember, people are always watching.