Ribbons Are the Eyes to Our Military Souls

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tanya King
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
They say our eyes are the windows to our souls.  People can tell a lot about you by gazing into your eyes.  They can tell whether you are tired, happy or even lying.  And your wife may use them to tell whether you are listening to her or not.

I can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their ribbon rack. I know if you have been in a war zone or if you have good aim with the M-16. I can tell if you were an overachiever in basic training or spent a few years overseas. I know how many years you have served and whether you have been in any trouble during those years. Just by looking at your ribbons, within a few moments, I can tell where those boots on your feet have taken you in your military career.

I always appreciate going to conferences where there is an assortment of Airmen in blues, some of whom choose not to wear their ribbons. I know, I know, they take a while to adjust and get just right. For women, we need another person to help tweak the spacing since we don't have those handy pockets as guides. Sometimes that gold border around your ribbon pops off. There have been days where I have walked around not realizing a rogue ribbon had fallen off only to expose a gaping hole in the rack. And it is a real pain in the butt when you get a new medal or award and you have to disassemble the whole darn rack to add the new one. My least favorite part about wearing ribbons is trying to carefully position a seatbelt so the ribbon rack doesn't jam into my chest every time I apply the brakes.  When Blues Mondays was introduced in 2008, many complied but only wearing the mandatory accouterments, making a case of the Mondays blues a little less likely. I still wear my ribbons however. Why? Why would anyone do that if they didn't have to? I'll tell you why.

Our ribbon racks are as unique as our careers. We should wear our ribbons with pride since we worked very hard to earn those colorful combinations of cloth. They are conversation pieces for both military members and civilians who know nothing about military life.  Civilians have approached me and asked what all that (pointing to my ribbons) means.  With that, I have a unique opportunity to tell someone where my boots have taken me.  From my ribbons alone, you can learn that I have been in the military between four and eight years, that not only have I been out of trouble enough to receive my Good Conduct Medal, but I have also earned two Achievement Medals.   You also know I have spent at least three years overseas and have spent some time in Iraq.  I have been to numerous award winning bases and units, and I have yet to graduate the Noncommissioned Officer's Academy, but I have graduated Airman Leadership School.  

Without these ribbons, we look just like the next blue suiter.  With them, we have an excuse to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to us when we see we have something in common.   I'd like to know just where people spent their long tour, because if they spent it in Japan, perhaps they have a good recipe for ramen.  Honor graduates in basic training can reminisce about all the pressure they were under while folding socks and trying to cram a plate-full of food down their throats in under a minute flat.  Some wear the Humanitarian medal proudly and might learn they were both at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., during Hurricane Katrina.  We may all wear the same uniform, but our boots take us on very different paths in our Air Force careers.

So even though we have grown accustomed to wearing our starched blue uniforms on Mondays, let's grow accustomed to wearing our ribbons as well.  Be proud of those ribbons you've earned.  Let your military soul speak for itself.