“Lieutenant, why are you in civilian clothes?” I was reporting to my first duty assignment and quickly realized I had made a cardinal mistake by not wearing my uniform on the first day. As I rushed to change into my uniform, I started to panic. Did I make the wrong decision? What was I doing here?
After spending the previous four years in college as a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet in the U.S. Air Force, I immediately started to question the longevity of my career as a nuclear weapons officer. Fortunately, I overcame my early snafu and learned a few things along the way that I would continue to apply long after I left the U.S. Air Force, and my uniform, behind.
After rebounding from my wardrobe malfunction, I embarked on a journey to the perpetually frozen Minot, North Dakota—one of three locations where the US military stores intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). As a nuclear weapons officer, I monitored nuclear missiles for more than 24 hour shifts from an underground launch control center—commonly known as “pulling alert.” As I became more senior, I assumed supervisory responsibility of 150 nuclear weapons and nearly as many airmen. Under demanding conditions, I was charged with carrying out processes mandated by the President and National Security Council. This profession requires flawless execution, and something as simple as wearing the right uniform is a crucial building block to the discipline and attention to detail required by this career field.