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What do all those stripes mean?

by Tech. Sgt. MaryAnn Kempher
6th Communications Squadron

Recently, I was standing in a long line at a local coffee shop when the woman behind me tapped me on my arm and asked, "Excuse me, what do all those stripes mean?"

I answered with a smile, "Well, would you like the short answer or the long answer?"

She looked at the long line in front of us and said, "How about both?"

I thought for a second and said, "I am a technical sergeant, these stripes mean that I have been in the Air Force anywhere from as little as seven years to as many as 24 years, they mean I am an expert in my career field, and I have proven this by countless hours preparing for and passing two very difficult tests of 100 questions each, twice. That's the short answer.

"The long answer isn't as easy, when someone sees these stripes a lot is assumed, they mean that on a daily basis I am being watched, judged and evaluated. Anyone from the youngest Airman or new lieutenant, to the chief master sergeant down one hall, or even the commander is forming an opinion about me based upon how I wear my uniform. Is it clean and pressed, or wrinkled and a little dirty? How I perform my job, am I efficient? Do I get the job done and done well? Or do I have to be reminded, and then the quality is just adequate or worse.

But, what these stripes mean goes so much deeper than that, they are more than cloth and more than opinions, they are symbols. Symbols that instantly identify me as belonging to something special and as someone willing to endure sacrifices so that those who will not, have that option. They stand for pride, a lot of pride. Because when I wear this uniform, I am proud."

The woman smiled, thanked me for my service and we both got our coffee and went on our ways.

Soon another test cycle will begin. I would like to say to all those testing, the answer to the above question is different for everyone. When you are faced with the choice between studying or doing something else, before you decide whether to put forth the effort ask yourself, "What do all those stripes mean…to me?"

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