Eglin and Tyndall Air Force bases set example in allowing some airmen to wear shorts

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

EGLIN AFB — In the Air Force, the definition of "big boy pants" is paradoxically growing to include short pants for some airmen, thanks in part to alternative uniforms first worn some months ago by units from Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base.

The Air Force announced Tuesday that airmen in maintenance roles can, at their commanders' discretion, ditch their camouflage-patterned long trousers and wear shorts to work, within certain parameters.

Under interim Air Force guidance set to be published and become effective March 15, the shorts must be dark navy blue and must be "worn with the Air Force standard coyote brown T-shirt and uniform green or coyote brown socks with uniform boots," according to the public affairs office for the secretary of the Air Force.

There also will be other restrictions. Shorts will be authorized for wear only in "authorized maintenance areas" such as flight lines, hangars and loading docks, and only when high temperatures for a given day are forecast to be 80 degrees or higher.

In this photo from August of last year, Airman 1st Class Jaivon Bland, a 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35A Lightning II  crew chief, signals to a pilot during prelaunch procedures at Eglin Air Force Base. The 33rd AMXS last year introduced a shorts uniform to help combat hot weather conditions on the flight line.

Allowing maintenance airmen to wear shorts under certain conditions is among a number of uniform options that will be available to airmen as of March 15 as a result of direct feedback from airmen and the various Air Force commands.

“We appreciated the feedback we received from airmen and the opportunity to hear their concerns and ideas," Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, said in a news release announcing the allowing of shorts and other changes. "Not all of the ideas fit within our standards or culture, but many do, and provided us an opportunity to provide options for our Airmen.”

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While navy blue shorts soon will be an Air Force-wide option for maintenance personnel in the specified locations and under the specified conditions, it won't mark the first time that maintenance personnel have worn shorts as part of their duty uniform.

Among the early adopters were airmen of the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), part of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin. In a place where summertime temperatures can regularly flirt with triple digits, those air temperatures are augmented by asphalt and other surfaces reflecting that hot sunshine around maintenance personnel's work spaces.

Last year, about 300 airmen with the 33rd AMXS were issued a hot-weather short alternative uniform after other units across the Air Force, including maintenance personnel with the 96th Test Wing, Eglin host unit, also began exploring options for wearing shorts.

According to a report from the 33rd Fighter Wing from September of last year, airmen were allowed to wear shorts from June through September, with leadership having the option of extending those dates based on weather conditions. At that time, shorts were issued only to flight line workers, according to the report.

It was, however, another area Air Force unit with which the idea for shorts on the flight line got its start. According to the September report from the 33rd Fighter Wing, flight line workers with the 95th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU), part of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall, were permitted to wear shorts while on deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base in the Middle East's United Arab Emirates.

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Average daily temperatures in Abu Dhabi, the Persian Gulf city where Al Dhafra Air Base is located, are above 100 degrees from May through September, and approach 110 degrees in July and August, according to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

After the Al Dhafra deployment, the 95th AMU sought out local guidance for wearing shorts at Tyndall, where average daily temperatures are in the 80s and often hit 90 degrees or above in July and August, according to NOAA data.

In other uniform options slated to begin March 15, Air Force and Space Force personnel will have more options for socks, glasses frames, cold-weather accessories and bags carried in uniform, according to Tuesday's announcement from the Air Force. Additionally, installation commanders can authorize the wearing of earpieces, headphones or wireless technology devices for their airmen while in uniform.

And more changes could be coming, the Air Force said in its Tuesday announcement, noting that "numerous other ideas" submitted by airmen and Air Force commands "are still under consideration."

The latest round of appearance-related changes to regulations comes a little more than a month after women in the Air Force were allowed to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail "with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades."

That same set of changes now allows women's bangs to "touch their eyebrows, but not cover their eyes," according to a January announcement from the Air Force.