Air Reserve Technicians, civilians who are also in the Air Reserve, are often confused for active-duty airmen, which causes complications, some have said. (Andre Bowser / Air Force)
They may be civilians, but Air Reserve Technicians wear the Air Force uniform while at work.
The 10,400 Air Reserve Technicians are federal employees who must be in the Select Reserve to hold their jobs. Since 2007, they have been required to wear Air Force uniforms at work in both civilian and military status.
Air Reserve Technicians make up 60 percent of Air Force Reserve Command's aircraft maintainers, said command spokesman Col. Robert Palmer. They fill jobs such as mechanics, flight instructors, nurses, loadmasters and personnel officers.
“An ART is not merely a civilian working for the military; rather, an ART is a part of the military and operates in an inherently military environment,” Palmer said in an email. “They provide management continuity, equipment maintenance and training support to help keep their units combat ready.”
But having civilians wear Air Force uniforms can pose serious problems, said Dan Bryant, an Air Reserve Technician at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, and a master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve.
Although Air Reserve Technicians are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it’s common for active-duty airmen to try and discipline or correct them, said Bryant, president of his local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“We’re subject to civilian AFIs [Air Force instructions], but we’re still civilians; we fall under a totally different set of rules,” he said.
Once when he was on temporary duty to Tucson, Ariz, a security forces airman asked to see Bryant’s military ID card after showing the guard his civilian ID card. When Bryant refused to show it, the airman started to interrogate him.
“I said, ‘I dare you, because I will have so many lawyers up your [behind] in two seconds if you even try to apprehend me,’ and he had no idea what to do,” Bryant said.
More recently, Bryant has been told he is going to be punished for not saluting his base commander, even though both are civilians. Bryant doesn’t think the latest Air Force instruction on Air Reserve Technicians requires him to render a salute while in uniform, so he is pushing back.
“I have initiated negotiations with my agency, specifically on the grooming standards and uniform wear for civilian employees, asking them basically to define what is the uniform — and they have yet to get back to me,” he said.
When Air Force Times asked readers if it is appropriate for civilians to wear Air Force uniforms, close to two dozen people responded by email.
If Air Reserve Technicians don’t like that they have to wear Air Force uniforms, they should complain to the uniform board; otherwise they should follow the Air Force rule, said Maj. Martin Haigh, a reservist stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
“In my opinion, and it’s backed up with the regulations, if you are, in fact, an Air Reserve Technician, you are not a civilian; by definition you are a citizen airman, which means that you are subject to the same regulations,” Haigh said. “Since I am a professional military officer, I would hope that the other citizen airmen would accept the fact that if you choose to take that position, you go into it with the understanding that although you’re in a civilian status at certain times, you still are, in fact, an Air Force member.”
However, having civilians wear Air Force uniforms can cause some confusion, said Armand Barrett, an Air Reserve Technician at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and a chief master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve.
Barrett wears his rank insignia when in uniform, but if he’s not on orders or on a drill weekend, he technically doesn’t have the rights and authorities of a chief master sergeant.
“I’ve heard of instances where senior ranking officers have said, ‘Hey, Sgt. So-and-so, can you help me do this?’ and to our credit, some of our folks have been real good about it; they just politely inform, ‘Sir, I’m a civilian, I’m on my lunch hour. If I do that, you’re potentially placing me in an overtime pay status,’” he said.
While they are in uniform, Air Reserve Technicians must meet grooming and fitness standards, but holding civilians subject to military regulations can create predicaments, Barrett said.
Barrett remembers when one of his fellow Air Reserve Technicians was selected for random drug testing because he was in uniform and had forgotten his civilian ID card. As a civilian, he was exempt from the testing. If the test had yielded a false positive, he could have lost his civilian job.
“When we approached civilian personnel about this particular circumstance, they said, ‘Well what you should have done is have had the personnel contact your orderly room, get the commander or first sergeant to validate that you’re a civilian, you’re in a civilian status and there’s different guidelines for that,’” Barrett said. “Well, that’s all well and good, except your orderly room doesn’t open until 7:30 a.m. and it was before that.”
Even though they wear the Air Force uniforms, Air Reserve Technicians do not get the same medical benefits as active-duty airmen, Barrett said.
“In the event they get some medical issue or condition, an injury, unless they can prove it occurred during military status — while on orders — that comes out of their pocket,” he said. “I would have to go and use my civilian health care, pay my co-pays, pay anything above what insurance doesn’t cover to maintain that same standard.”
An active-duty noncommissioned officer serving in a Reserve unit says it is simply too confusing to have civilians wear Air Force uniforms.
“When you salute what you thought was a full bird colonel, but he says, ‘Nope, I’m just a civilian today,’ I have a problem with him wearing the rank,” an NCO, who asked not to be identified, said in an email. “It goes against a lot of what you grew up learning in active duty. Everyone is on a first-name basis, regardless of the rank they wear, because they are civilians. It’s two different worlds, and it’s corrosive to the active-duty side of the house.”