Those members of the Class of 1974 who stayed in the AF for a career will recall that we suffered through many different iterations of AF uniforms during our careers. In the early 1980s, when a fighter pilot finally broke the string of bomber pilot CSAFs, those of us flying fighters assumed that flight suits would become the new standard AF uniform. We were betrayed, allegedly by the Chief’s wife, who felt that AF officers attending Washington, DC area socials, looked shabby compared to our Army, Navy and Marine counterparts, inasmuch as we had only our Class A uniform in which to dress up for such occasions. Thus, the AF Uniform Board decreed that all AF officers would henceforth be required to possess ceremonial uniforms: a white ceremonial for summer events, and a blue ceremonial uniform for winter.
Fortunately for many AF officers, the phase-in period for mandatory possession and wearing of these ceremonial uniforms was a lengthy one. Like many others, I determined to wait at least until I learned if I was promoted to major before shelling out for these uniforms. Following that promotion, I dutifully bought said uniforms and hung them in the nether recesses of my closet.
In 1989, my active flying career came to an early end as the venerable F-4 was replaced throughout the AF by single-seat fighters, and I found myself assigned to the Pentagon as a member of the Air Force International Affairs staff (AF/CVAII). Our duties included the care and feeding of foreign military attaches in Washington, and entailed attendance at numerous national days, armed forces days and other celebrations. We adhered strictly to AF protocol, including wearing the white or blue ceremonial uniform to late afternoon events in accordance with AFR 35-10.
On one such occasion in September 1990, I attended a reception at the Indonesian Embassy. The CSAF was Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak, who had recently replaced Gen. Mike Dugan following Gen. Dugan’s untimely “brush” with the SECDEF. The CVAII staff sent a staff summary sheet to the Chief’s office about the Indonesian reception, as we did for any foreign-hosted event the Chief was planning to attend – who to expect to encounter, what issues they might raise, and the general state of political/military relations between the host nation and the US.
Thus it came to pass that Lt Col Boyd was standing with a group of officers at the Indonesian reception when Gen. McPeak arrived, wearing his Class A blue uniform. I was wearing my white ceremonial uniform, as prescribed by AFR 35-10, based on the time of year and starting time for the reception. Following the obligatory reception line and handshake with the Indonesian Ambassador and Defense Attaché, Gen. McPeak spotted me in my spiffy white ice cream suit and made a beeline across the room. He extended his hand, and as we shook, he said, “So, Buddy (if he didn’t know your first name, Gen. McPeak always called you ‘Buddy’), it looks like one of us is in the wrong uniform!” I responded with a courteous, “Yes, General,” and we then engaged in some small talk for a few minutes.
The next day, a message went out to the entire Air Staff: from this day forward, neither Gen. McPeak nor any other member of the Air Staff would wear the white or blue ceremonial uniforms! And, within a few weeks, the AF Uniform Board had formally amended AFR 35-10 to outlaw the wearing of those uniforms.
So, I claim personal responsibility for the demise of the ceremonial uniforms of the 1980s. For those of you who never had the “opportunity” to purchase and/or wear them, you are welcome!