PTU: 'Is it really that important?'

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Roy Grubbs
  • 96th Security Forces Squadron First Sergeant
"Come on first sergeant, is it really that important?"

I'm sure that's what people are thinking when I tell them to tuck in their shirt while wearing the physical training uniform. Yes, it is important and here's my take on it: it's a uniform. The PTU is called a uniform so it should be treated as every uniform is.

Guidance on how to wear our PTU is set forth for a few reasons; one is safety while another is to demonstrate pride as we gather as a unit. As we experience an increasing presence of joint and coalition forces, the Air Force should demonstrate a professional image. If a person's mindset is to pick and choose the standards to follow, I would argue that the same person is willing to pick and choose standards to follow and enforce throughout the workday, and that's just not a good idea. Lieutenant Gen. Richard Newton signed an official message June 9, 2009, updating the PTU wear guidance.

"But shirt, are you aware the AF keeps changing the guidance?"

Yes, as a 24-year veteran in the Profession of Arms, I'm well versed in the "change, and then change it back" mindset. When a first sergeant or supervisor enforces a standard, it doesn't mean they're unaware of those frustrations or blindly barking orders. I'll be honest, there's been times throughout my career where it just doesn't make sense.

It's been a year since the current PTU guidance was signed. I say, if an Airman is not wearing the PTU correctly at this point, it's on purpose and it's up to EACH AND EVERY other Airman to point it out and correct the behavior.

Most of us have heard the familiar phrase, "In the Air Force, the only constant is change." Ultimately, changes are made, and when it happens they must be enforced. It's a condition of employment. Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force (retired) Gen. Ronald Fogleman's stance on good order and discipline applies here: standards should be uniformly known, consistently applied and non-selectively enforced. If it's not unsafe or immoral it's up to us to jump on board and make it happen.

Let's move on to some of Air Force Instruction 36-2903, the governing rules on PTU that bring out the most violations from our Team Eglin Airmen:

Salute during Reveille/Retreat. Performing fitness does not take priority over rendering appropriate honors to the "Red, White and Blue;" that's why we're here to start with. Plan ahead! Don't start something you can't stop when the music plays. Allow for time to clear your misty eyes before starting again.

Tuck in that shirt. The guidance doesn't list any times or activities that you can temporarily un-tuck. For instance, when taking your fitness assessment, it should be tucked before you start running, during your run and when you're cooling down. If it comes un-tucked or sags during physical activity such as soccer, ultimate frisbee, etc. - fix it.

Grooming Standards. Refer to the applicable tables in AFI 36-2903. Males; shave prior to wearing the uniform. Jewelry guidance still applies, but there is an exception. 

Socks. Plain white socks only. Small logos are acceptable.

Be Visible. If wearing standard PTU shorts and shirt, a reflective belt or armband is optional. However, if you choose to wear the Improved PTU (IPTU) shorts, a reflective belt/armband is required.

Of course, there's more guidance and it's up to each of us to be as familiar as possible with it. Visit the Uniforms and Recognition Branch Web page on the Air Force Portal and become familiar with AFI 36-2903 and the supplements and messages pertaining to it. If you have questions, go to your supervisor. Your supervisor will take the time to assist you in making sure you are a squared away Airman ready to represent your service. It's part of the duties of your supervisor. If resolution can't be found, or you need to know what the unit commander' s guidance is on a topic, find your first sergeant and it will be clarified for you.

The Air Force continues to solicit your feedback. If you have an idea on how to improve the uniform or the wear guidance you can submit it to the Air Force Virtual Uniform Board. Airmen can "Submit a Uniform Change Request," via the AFVUB Web site at

Until then, make it your priority to wear the PTU with pride and ensure that you are setting an example by wearing it correctly.