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Saturday, September 16, 2006


The workplace of Bruck is a rather unique place which houses a mixture of civilians and military personnel from all branches. I’m relatively new to the job, and was initially taken aback by the preponderance of fellow employees donning military uniforms. I’ve come to learn that active military people everywhere (with certain duty-related exceptions) have to wear a uniform when they’re on the job. They do have some latitude, e.g., they can wear their dress uniform or BDUs (battle dress, i.e., camo), and there are some other options that I see mainly on the female soldiers and sailors, such as skirts and sweaters. So that explains it, but it doesn’t make it any less silly-looking, especially the BDUs. I mean, if you really want to stand out in an office environment, wear your desert digitals! For real camouflage, they should make office BDUs that look like beige cubicle walls and copy machines.

The next thing I noticed is that there’s nothing “uniform” about uniforms. The basic items are pretty similar, i.e., shirts, slacks, etc. but beyond that, there’s much diversity. Obviously, different services have different colors and various and sundry accoutrements, i.e., the Navy is blue and the Army is either green or brown (your faithful editor is fairly colorblind), and in the Air Force you’ve got some representation of wings somewhere on you, but even within a service there’s a wide range of accessorization.

Now I’m sure that the different accessories have a lot of meaning, particularly to those who are wearing them and who undoubtedly worked hard for them, but let me just put it out there, and I think I speak for the entire civilian human race, that I have no earthly idea what they all mean. To me it all looks like pretty pedestrian outfits with a bunch of shiny gold and silver junk hanging off of them. I’m not immune to learning mind you, and I’m sure it will be useful in the future to know the difference between a Colonel and a Staff Sergeant, but for now, I can just look for certain cues and clues to guide me in what level of esteem I should assign to a uniform. Here’s what I’ve managed to figure out so far:

The more ribbons the better. Ribbons are what appear on the left chest above the pocket. I think they’re related to medals earned, & promotions are proportional to medals.

The more metal hanging off of them the better. This is true among Goths and minimum-wage employees as well, except the soldiers wear the metal on their shirts rather than their faces.

The older the better – age doesn’t guarantee promotions, but in general, you have to get promoted or get out, so by process of elimination, the older soldiers are the higher-ranking ones.

I did get a little education from a co-worker who told me that captains have gold leafs and lieutenant colonels have silver ones. I’m looking forward to being able to use that info.

It gets a little tougher with the BDUs. They really do all look alike. Instead of metal accessories they have patches with colored thread, but you have to look pretty closely to differentiate. Of course this makes sense, since Ahmed gets more paradise points for taking out a Colonel than a Corporal, so it’s in the Colonel’s best interest to make him at least as likely to plant some lead in the latter.

And for that matter, the full dress uniforms are completely inscrutable. These are the uniforms that you see in ceremonies or Michael Jackson videos, i.e., the really ostentatious ones with ropes, swords, whips, velvet, and lots of bling. I have no basis whatsoever for differentiating among them, but it’s of little import anyway as the only people I see in them are giving tours.

Another thing that strikes me a little funny is the names on the uniform. Nothing odd about this of course, they’ve been doing it for decades if not centuries, it’s just that there they are, for everybody to see, even in public when they’re commuting. Just sort of seems like a violation of privacy to me. Anyway, a couple weeks ago I saw a woman on the subway in uniform. She appeared to be of eastern European descent, sort of a gloomy exotic Transylvanian look about her, and her name patch read, “Kafka.” And just this morning I saw a woman in Air Force camos (I knew it was Air Force bcs the Army has gone to digital camos and the Air Force is still using conventional ones). Her name was “US Air Force.” How weird is that? I wonder if she changed her name when she enlisted, or if her parents made the commitment for her long before that…?

So anyway, it occurs to me, why should the military people have all the fun with uniforms? Civilians, sure, we get to wear whatever we want within reason, and we do, but frankly it’s a little dull, plus it doesn’t mean much. Some of the basic rules apply, like younger single people like to wear expensive mating apparel that have a short style window, and richer, older people tend to gravitate toward conservative fashions with tailored shirts, monogrammed cuffs, expensive watches, etc., but who’s to say they didn’t inherit a bale of cash, or they’re not metromen still living with mom, or they don’t rob banks for that matter? And who’s to say that the unassuming old guy carrying a sack lunch and wearing sensible shoes and beige dockers worn to a dull shine isn’t actually a double-dipping retired general who’s just indulging his inner cheapskate?

Basically you see civilians walking down the hall and you can’t instantly identify their grade level, and while that’s not necessarily a problem, let’s fix it anyway. But first, here’s a rough breakdown of the government pay levels with their approximate equivalent in private industry:

SES 1 thru 4 (manager equivalent thru executive VP or group VP equivalent)

GS 15 (high-level supervisor of degreed professionals)

GS 14 (low-level supervisor of degreed professionals or highest rank of non-managerial professionals)

GS 13 (low-level supervisor, high-level professional)

GS 12 (mid-level professional)

GS 10-11 (low to mid-level professional)

GS 7-9 (entry- to low-level professional)

What I’d like to do here is recommend simple cues which shouldn’t impede the employee’s ability to express him/herself, but should give an informed observer a means of instantly assessing rank from a short distance. I would also like to make my recommendations upwardly cumulative, i.e., the higher-level employee can wear any of the items allowed at the lower level, but not vice-versa.

SES 4: Gold pocket watch chain

SES 3: Silver pocket watch chain

SES 2: Cufflinks

SES 1: Monogrammed shirts – cuffs, collar, or chest pocket

GS 15: Gold tietack

GS 14: Silver tietack

GS 13: White belt.

GS 12: White shoes and belt

GS 10-11: White shoes, belt, and tie

GS 7-9: Mullet


  • At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I gave a briefing once to a SES, who was wearing BDU's (not in a deployed local). That was weird!


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