It’s not what you do, it’s what you wear…
This is an excellent scheme that does – for the moment – make me feel just a little bit guilty as I spoke about in the past – particularly in relation to having not been out to Afghan yet – and it offers loads of tickets for servicemen and particularly injured servicemen to lots of events all over the country – and not just to football matches, there’s even been opera listed in the past.
One of the stipulations for the tickets this time was that we should wear uniform. When I said this over on Twitter, it caused a bit of a stir actually, with some people thinking that it was wrong that we ‘had’ to wear uniform to get tickets. I’m not going to rake up that argument again, but I’m going to recount a small tale of what happened just after the match as I was walking back to the car, parked somewhere north of Wembley. And I think you’ll be able to make you own conclusions as to why wearing us members of the Armed Forces should wear uniform when attending such events…
The game was over and I had just turned the corner and was walking down a very quiet residential street. I was actually amazed how quiet it was considering there were 72,000 people at the game…but slightly in front of me was a family of three – a father, mother and I think a 5-6 year old boy walking along. Again they’d been to the match, and to chivvy the boy along the pavement, probably to get him back to their car, the dad was playing a game of tag with the lad…and had run slightly forward. Eventually, he’d let the boy tag him and they’d swapped over.
They weren’t going particularly fast so I gained ground on them really quickly. I was still in uniform having changed in the car before the game and was wearing my No-2b standard work dress. This was a light blue long sleeve shirt and tie and my blue trousers. For a hat, instead of my beret which I often wear I was wearing a Field-Service or Forage Cap. (I’d decided on this as a bit of a tribute to those who’d worn them in the Battle of Britain…there are lots of pictures of wartime airmen wearing them – when they were a bit more fashionable in the RAF than they are now…I thought it’d be nice for people to be able to make the connection, even if it was just sub-consiously.)
So I was fully in uniform with my rank badge of Sergeant on my shoulders.
And I walked past the little boy. He stopped dead in his tracks, pointed at me and turned to his dad and said – “Look Daddy,a Police man.”
I said nothing but gave the lad a smile.
“Noooooo” said his dad. “He’s not a policeman, he’s in the Air Force, or the Navy, or something.”
“I think it’s the air force” said his wife.
At this I turned gave the lad a cheery smile and said, “That’s right, the Royal Air Force. Had a good evening? Good that we won in the end wasn’t it? Have a good trip home.” And I turned and walked on.
I could hear the lad and the dad talking for a moment or two.
“Ohhh” said the Dad. “He’s air force. He’s a pilot. F-16. Stealth Bomber. Neeeeeeeeeooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww.”
The lad made a similar noise and their play continued.
But this got to me.
Firstly I’m not a pilot. Not everyone in the RAF are pilots. Its a natural assumption to make that I guess, but it’s there are relatively few pilots in relation to members of the RAF.
Secondly, and this is probably more excusable F-16’s and Stealth Bombers are American bits of kit. The UK does have them. We have Tornado’s and Eurofighter Typhoons and Chinooks…all of which were often in the news, but the first aircraft that this guy could think of were not our own.
Finally, and this hurt a bit more. He chap, nice as he was, was confused about which service I was. I am fully aware of the fact that people have a lack of contact with the forces, they have less and less members of their family who are involved and have joined up themselves. The forces – to some people – are a several steps away from their own spheres. If I’d have been in the Army, and wearing my combats it would have been clear who and what I was, but all of a sudden, here I am in my RAF uniform and I am confused between the RAF and the Navy.
And this brings me to the point I am ham-fistedly trying to make.
This shows that our message isn’t getting through. Because despite all the media and all the news stories and all the interest in members of the Armed Forces, people out there are still amazingly under informed. They don’t know what we are, what we do, how we do it and more importantly why we do it.
It’s a failing that particularly the RAF and the Royal Navy has been guilty of in the past. Clearly. This gentleman couldn’t tell the difference between the two services based upon our uniform – so that shows something, doesn’t it. The Army has been fantastically successful n getting it’s message across, but then they have the benefit of being instantly recognisable – their clothes clearly tell people what they are!
It shows me that despite everything about the RAF and the RN in the media – all the news stories, and all the press about kit and equipment and so forth, our message is being lost. It shows me that the very basic thing. Not being able to recognise a member of the RAF or Royal Navy is not good for either service. For all sorts of reasons…
And it shows me all the more that wearing uniform to that match was all the more important. And despite the argument I had on Twitter over having to wear it to the game, the reason I said at the time was that it was that I am proud to wear it and proud to be a member of the RAF, and so on.
But, I was wrong. The reason to wear the uniform, and the reason I should be encouraged to wear it more then out at things like that is to just get people used to seeing people in uniforms. Because sadly people still just don’t know who we are, what we do, and why we are here.