One of the first things we notice when you see a military member is their uniform. But a core part of the armed forces are civilians or reservists who work part time with military branches. They do not wear uniforms, unlike active duty.
This has been the case for years. But in August 2007, the Air Force started requiring Air Reserve Technicians -- ARTs for short -- to wear military uniform at all times while on base. Since then, most Air Force bases have implemented this rule.
One of the few left to make it a requirement is Barksdale Air Force Base. But on March 28, former 307th Commander Robert VanHoy issued a memo enforcing the military uniform rule for the civilian employees who have dual status in their military technician position.
This didn't go over well with the civilians who feel they are being required to look the part but not get the same pay benefits.
The new commander of the 307th Bomb Wing, Col. Steven Wayne Kirkpatrick says, "I understand, I do. I know it's an issue for many and so I understand where they are coming from and they feel like civilians would not have to wear military clothing while at work. I think the difference it that the ARTs are a blend of military and civilian and the headquarters has required that wear and we need to comply."
But what are ARTs? They are one of the most important keys to combat readiness. They are full-time civilian employees who are required to serve as members of the Air Force Reserve one weekend a month and at least 14 days a year of annual training.
Now, why are ARTs the only ones required to where military uniforms while performing civilian duties?
According to the 307th commander, there are two main reasons: "You get a lot more protection wearing a uniform than just wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Another thing is good order and discipline for the military and to look the same. Because again, we are working with active duty, so having that common bond and professional look, I think it's important to senior leaders," said Kirkpatrick.
On April 22, less than a month after VanHoy sent out his memo, the National Federation of Federal Employees sent out its own press release, establishing their opposition to the Air Force's memo.
The union has been opposed to the move since 2007 and is not satisfied with the latest agreement. The union has filed a petition with the Federal Labor Relations.
Jerry McCarthy with the NFFE assures laws are being violated.
“They’re Title 5 employees when they are civilians. And then when they are military, they are Title 10. And those laws especially say civilians will not wear uniforms when they are not in active duty status," McCarthy said.
In response to McCarthy's argument, KTBS received a statement from Barksdale Air Force Base that reads:
"The precedent for directing military technicians to wear the military uniform while in civilian duty status already exists in law and policy. Military technicians of the National Guard are required to wear the military uniform at all times in accordance with 32 U.S.C. § 709. Since 2007, the requirement for Air Reserve Technicians (ARTs) to wear the military uniform while in civilian status has been codified in Air Force Instructions 36-703, Civilian Conduct and Responsibility, 36-801, Uniforms for Civilian Employees, and 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel. We decline further comment due to the parties’ ongoing participation in formal appeal processes afforded to them in accordance with the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute."
In the meantime, McCarthy added providing uniforms is a "gross waste of taxpayer money”. The commander disagrees. The reservists are issued uniforms because of their one-weekend-a-month work requirement.
To this McCarthy responded: “Those uniforms were issued to them to wear one weekend a month. Now they are going to be wearing them five days a week. These guys are mechanics, they do all kinds of different jobs, they are going to be more prone to wearing them out. If they spill oil on them there’s going to be a stain or if they tear them. That’s going to cost more. Plus, the military boots they have to provide to them. They are safety boots and they are several hundred dollars a pair. It doesn’t seem like anybody seems to care this is going to cost millions of dollars every year to replace these uniforms.”
Then there's another complaint about the mandatory uniforms that most of living in Louisiana can relate to.
“You know how hot it gets down there in the summer. It’s going to be a lot worse on them this summer and I feel like we are going to have people with more heat casualties. We’ll see how it works out. I hate to say that we have to have someone hurt or sick or injured before someone does something about it. It’s always reactive instead of proactive," McCarthy said.
At the end of the day, the new commander of the 307th says they all have to comply.
“I understand their complaints and I’m definitely sympathetic to some of their concerns and again they can go to their constituents in Washington and argue their points to try and make the changes. But until then, they do need to comply and that’s my job to make sure that’s done," said Kirkpatrick.
The only other base whose ARTs are not wearing uniforms is Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas. Barkdale's 307th commander says the new rule should be effective here next month.
But that won't stop the union from opposing it. They will continue their fight while continuing to lobby Congress to either stop in or change the law.