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Brown shoes: wear them with pride

by Col. Charles C. Duell
314th Airlift Wing vice commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. - Awhile back, the nice folks in the public affairs office asked me if I would write an editorial for the newspaper on the occasion of my retirement.

I told them, "No problem." After more than 29 years of service, I figured I had plenty to say and most likely would have to ask them for additional space.

Well, I have been working on this thing for days now and am getting nowhere. My words end up sounding trite or corny. Everything that is important to me has been described before by people much smarter and more prominent than I. The recurring theme that comes across as I struggle with this piece is how "brown shoe" everything comes out and, unfortunately, that term has very negative connotations.

I think the revelation that struck me as I started this umpteenth draft is that I really am a brown shoe kind of guy and, by the way, pretty damned proud of it.

I came on active duty in 1971, before many of the people who will read this were born. It was a different Air Force then, not necessarily better and not worse by any standard. We have certainly increased our capabilities over the past 30 years.

We have changed our uniforms, our rank structure - does anybody out there even truly remember buck sergeants? - and even the chevrons on our senior NCOs. We spent $1 million to change the name from "barracks" to "dormitories."

Despite the above, the one thing that is jumping out at me as I look back across my time in the Air Force is how little the important values have changed. The same things that made me consider my senior officers and NCOs "brown shoe" back when I was a lieutenant are the same values I cherish today.

They are the same set of beliefs that I see displayed every day by our best young junior officers, NCOs and airmen. Some of them are brown shoe throwbacks and don't even know it.

Realizing that all values and beliefs are personal and shaped by each individual's experiences, I will attempt here to define some of the attributes that I think make up brown shoe airmen.

Attribute one: Good old-fashioned, jump-up-and-down, "I love the USA!" patriotism. I am cynical about a lot of things, but unabashed in my love of country. You want to see me get emotional, put me in front of an American flag and put on Lee Greenwood singing "Proud to be an American." I won't disappoint you. There will be a tear every time.

Attribute two: A deep-seated, unshakable commitment to the United States Air Force and its mission. Brown shoe airmen inherently know that their profession is vitally important and they have fierce pride in what they do and the accomplishments of their Air Force. They don't have to verbalize it - it is just there and permeates everything they do.

Attribute three: An ungrudging respect and undying admiration for their fellow airmen. Brown shoe airmen are loyal to their bosses, supportive of their peers and fiercely protective of their subordinates. They don't blame the chain of command for unpleasant assignments; they quietly go about the business of making sure it gets done the best way possible. They tell their bosses the truth, because that benefits everybody.

They are the first ones to volunteer for award ceremonies, retirements and promotion parties. No matter what it takes, they make sure that the people around them know they are valued members of the team.

There are many more definitions just as valid as mine but, in the end, I think you will find they all fit in the same shoebox. To those who have not quite bought into all of this yet, do yourself a favor - go find yourself a pair of brown shoes. Try them on. You will be surprised at how comfortable they become after a little bit. You may find you don't want to take them off.

 

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