Should I salute?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Marleah Miller
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
Bolling Airmen are familiar with the constant changes that accompany their military lifestyle, and with joint-basing nearing, Airmen will see more changes as they work closer with the United States Navy. This may be a bit of a scare to some Air Force members, especially when it comes to distinguishing the Navy's enlisted from their officers. 

Have you ever saluted a Navy officer only to find out they were enlisted? Was it the bird on their hat that threw you off? I've seen many do it and I've also seen people look for any way to avoid the situation all together. 

The most common mishap is distinguishing an Air Force colonel's eagle from the Navy's crow. Fortunately, for me, a close friend of mine in the Navy has helped me understand the Navy's uniforms, so I know when to salute and when not to. In turn, I have helped him understand the Air Force uniform. 

Before my personal exposure, I knew the Navy had several different uniforms in comparison to the Air Force, but my question was always, "Why?" Now I clearly understand each uniform's purpose - whether it's location, seasonal, for their job or to distinguish the Navy's enlisted from the officers. 

I've learned that in the National Capital Region, from April to October, Navy members wear working whites, also known as the "Good Humor Man" uniform, or their dress whites. From October to April they wear working blues, also known as their "Johnny Cashes," or dress blues. The Navy also has a uniform specially designed for wear in tropical climates such as Hawaii - their tropical whites. 

Utilities, a light blue shirt with dark blue pants, are also commonly seen worn by the Navy and are the equivalent to the Airman Battle Uniform and Battle Dress Uniform. Then there is the coverall, the navy-blue one-piece suit worn by Sailors in a maintenance job. Distinguishing ranks on the coveralls are similar to the ABUs and BDUs. 

The embroidered rank on ABUs and BDUs for officers is represented with blue thread for those whose metal rank would be silver and copper thread for those whose metal rank would be gold. The Navy uses that same color representation for their name tapes - silver thread on E-1 - E-6 name tapes and gold thread on the name tapes for chiefs (E-7 - E-9) and officers. Another interesting fact is that black boots are worn with the silver thread and brown boots are worn with the gold thread.

Another common Navy uniform is the service uniform, consisting of a khaki shirt, khaki pants and brown shoes. This uniform is only worn by chiefs (E-7 - E-9) and officers. Apparently chiefs and officers won't be the only ones wearing khaki. My friend told me there is a new uniform, a khaki shirt with black pants, which will replace the working whites and working blues.

Unfortunately, taking a quick look at the uniform isn't always going to help you distinguish whether the person walking towards you is an officer or enlisted; you have to know what to look for. If it weren't for my friend, I know I'd still be one of many to try and avoid walking past a Navy member for this same reason. 

An important detail to know, and the most common mistake other branches make, is that for enlisted Navy (E-4 - E-6) it's a crow, not an eagle, on the hat and collar. Petty officer 3rd class (E-4) is considered the most difficult to distinguish and the most saluted. Their insignia is the crow above one chevron and as they make rank another chevron is added. Petty officer 2nd class (E-5) has a crow with two chevrons and petty officer 1st class (E-6) has a crow with three chevrons. 

We've also discussed each other's occupational badges. The Air Force wears their occupational badge on the left side of the chest on ABUs, BDUs and the service dress; whereas the Navy wears theirs on the left arm, but only on their dress uniforms.
From time to time, my friend and I have made jokes about each other's uniforms. His favorite is our all-weather coat, or what he likes to call the "Inspector Gadget" coat, which requires the "go go gadget steamer." I can't help but laugh when he brings it up as he throws on a much warmer wool pea coat. 

The most common difference we come across are the names, or lingo, we use for certain clothing items. In the Air Force you can go up to someone, ask them about low quarters and you're guaranteed they'll know you're talking about shoes. I once asked him about his low quarters and he looked at me like I was crazy. 

It can be stressful walking to and from somewhere because you never know who you're going to walk past. With so many changes going on around us, as Bolling becomes a joint base, I'm glad that what I've learned personally can make this transition easier and less stressful professionally. Take a little time to learn about whom you may be working with - it will make the change a lot less scary.