Academy Spirit staff
For nearly nine years discussions have been underway to modify cadet shoulder boards, and for about six years discussions to modify female cadet slacks.
Changes in both clothing items are now complete, and the modified items are being made available to cadets as inventories arrive.
“It’s been a long, long process,” said Ken Rivera, coordinator of the Academy Uniform Board. He added, over the years, three or four proposals went by the wayside before gaining approval for changes for this school year from Lt. Gen. John Regni, former Academy superintendent.
The first change to be approved was the replacement of old metal ranks on shoulder boards with embroidered ranks.
Following that, discussions emerged that such a change would be an ideal time to amend the former insignias, which were found to no longer fit the chain of command organization in the squadrons.
Mr. Rivera said the stars and diamonds on insignias had lost their meaning to such a degree that, in one instance, every third-class cadet was wearing cadet staff sergeant insignia with a diamond.
The move to modify insignias was also then approved, and now the commander designation of the star has been restored to its original meaning as was the ranking NCO designation of the diamond. Chevrons, also, have been modified to better reflect ranks.
“The job/rank association was broken,” Mr. Rivera said. “I think those involved made good decisions to align insignia meanings to be more similar to the Air Force. We want to teach cadets as much about the Air Force as we possibly can.”
Also now appearing on shoulder boards, as appropriate, are designation of the Polaris for cadet honor committee members and lightning bolts for team captains. Such designators are not rank-related.
The new embroidered shoulder boards reflect more luster than the previous metal boards, for which, it was argued, were a tradition. The new shoulder boards are also more durable, easier to acquire and have greater availability. They are also a half-inch longer than the old shoulder boards, in conformance with the operational Air Force, and are anchored with “luggage plastic” inside, allowing them to readily rebound in shape. Old shoulder boards contained fiberboard which, when wet, tended to flatten out.
“This marks a new era for the Academy reflecting a modernization needed in today’s culture and maturation that is the sign of a progressive organization,” Mr. Rivera said.
Col. Gail Colvin, vice commandant of cadets, said the impetus for the changes came from the cadets themselves and are definite improvements.
“More people are identifiable now, and they look better,” she said.
Changes in cadet female slacks now reflect changes in Academy culture as well.
Since the stand-up of the Academy, women’s uniform designs have become more gender neutral. Mr. River pointed out double-breasted service coats have become single-breasted, boat caps are now wheel caps, and women began to prefer slacks to skirts.
Historically, cadet women voiced concerns about the pre-1993 Air Force slack, which had wide legs. A new designed featured a pegged-leg slack from which the Academy created its own version and eliminated the elastic waistband. Complaints continued into 2005 about the front darts on the old design which they said were baggy and unflattering. Mr. Rivera fit-tested various designs suggested by cadet women and surveyed their preferences.
The resulting new slack design offers women a shorter rise, pockets that mirror the men’s trouser, the elimination of darts, a slightly wider leg and belt loops that will accommodate the same belt width as on men’s trousers. Now, the only obvious difference is the placement of zipper placket, which is opposite the men’s.
“The new slacks are creating more esprit de corps and unity and raising morale,” Mr. Rivera said. “It’s a victory for the women cadets.”