The Many Changes Of The Airman's Uniform
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Tobler
July 21, 2020
Throughout the Air Force’s history, the uniform worn by Airmen has changed many times. Uniform changes may seem insignificant as they are common, but the changing of the cloth that service members wear represent so much more for some.
Chief Master Sgt. David Pizzuto, 81st Training Wing command chief, has worn every uniform the Air Force has ever known. He first raised his right hand in the summer of 1982 and started his career wearing the cotton sateen utility uniform, known as fatigues.
Uniforms owned by Chief Master Sgt. David Pizzuto (lower right corner), 81st Training Wing command chief, are displayed inside of the Levitow Training Support Facility at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi on May 6, 2020. Pizzuto, who retired later in May, served for 37 years and has worn every uniform the Air Force has ever known. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photos by Airman 1st Class Spencer Tobler.)
“I came in right out of high school and didn’t necessarily have a plan,” said Pizzuto. “There was a lot going on in the world in 1983 and I saw the Air Force as a way to serve my country, give back and gain some education.”
Pizzuto remembers a stricter working environment early in his career.
“I learned early on in my career that the sharper my uniform looked the less they would pay attention to me,” said Pizzuto. “The fatigues gave me some self-discipline and made me proud to be an Airman.”
In his Battle Dress Uniform, Pizzuto remembers his treacherous times in Belgium where he aided in the defense of the ground launched cruise missiles the United States set up during the tail-end of the Cold War. Pizzuto had to apply the self-discipline he learned early in his career.
“The BDUs, to me, were a warrior mindset uniform,” said Pizzuto. “Our team of 44 went out and dug foxholes and set up communication through field phones. We were up for about 72 hours straight whenever we went out to secure and defend those missiles. It was a very effective tool that the United States exercised, which essentially ended the Cold War and I was happy to be a part of that team.”
Along with the ground launched cruise missile program, Pizzuto also saw first-hand effects of the invasions of Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, and the Gulf War. After nine years, he separated from the Air Force.
“When I came into the military I initially thought I would do a couple of tours and be done,” said Pizzuto. “but after separating in 1992, I quickly realized wearing the uniform and working with my wingmen was more than just a job, it was family, commitment and purpose that I was leaving. I quickly found and joined a reserve unit near home to get my Air Force fix.”
After years of reserve duty, Pizzuto was recalled to active duty after 9/11.
“We know the impact 9/11 had on the country,” said Pizzuto. “When the opportunity came for me to return to active duty I couldn’t turn it down. My wife and I took a pretty healthy pay cut but that didn’t matter because it’s not about the money, it’s about how you’re making an impact on this nation.”
As the Air Force makes advancements in technology, functionality, and agility, so do the uniforms. As the uniforms evolve, so do the Airmen wearing them.
Pizzuto became a senior noncommissioned officer around the same time the Airman Battle Uniform began its rollout. The new ABU was more practical than the outgoing BDU, but got away from what some uniform-wearers were used to.
“The ABUs were just wash and wear,” said Pizzuto. “We didn’t have to starch them. A lot of us defenders were proud of the BDU because we wanted to iron our uniform and wear our patches. We started chipping away at ownership and pride in our uniform.”
Pizzuto acknowledges that the Air Force has changed for the better as the Air Force he initially joined is very different from the one today.
“The Air Force today sits at about half the manpower than it was when I first joined, but we’re more lethal than ever,” said Pizzuto. “There’s fewer Airmen having more responsibility and learning different crafts. Airmen joining today’s Air Force aren’t afraid to communicate with their leaders. The chain-of-command back in the day kind of stifled communication, but as we progressed and actually defined what a chain-of-command is supposed to do it opened up those doors.”
The Operational Camouflage Pattern is the current and last uniform Pizzuto will wear as he prepares for his retirement this month.
“As I went through those uniforms, I grew,” said Pizzuto. “It helped me become a better Airman as I got an opportunity to deal with the challenges that come along with a uniform change at each rank.
After 37 years of wearing the five uniforms, Pizzuto believes that not wearing the cloth of our nation will be the hardest adjustment.
“My entire life I’ve been wearing this uniform in some form or fashion,” said Pizzuto. “I separated once before and after doing that I quickly realized the importance of work ethic and camaraderie. I tried to take advantage of everything the Air Force had to offer and with that I became a better leader, a better father, a better husband and overall a better human being.”
Though Pizzuto sees himself as a better version of the kid he was 37 years ago, he still remains the same.
“I’m just a kid from Avon, New York,” said Pizzuto. “The David Pizzuto that joined the Air Force and the David Pizzuto today are the same person. I’m nobody special, just an American that volunteered to put on the uniform.”
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