Is your T-shirt square?

  • Published
  • By Brian Brown
  • 17th Communications Squadron Director
Remembering back when I entered basic training, I recall my first "encounter" with my training instructor, Sergeant Mehlhoff. He was 6 feet 8 inches of pure terror.

During our first inspection, I was standing tall in front of my locker as he approached me, leaned forward with his nose about half an inch away from mine and at the top of his lungs barked, "Is your T-shirt square boy!" I responded with the required, "Sir, yes sir," that had been drilled into us. He calmly peered into my drawer and then lashed back with a stream of profanities and comments that shook the entire building followed by, "What is this disgusting pile of rags doing in one of my lockers?"

When he moved on to the next row and saw those trainees' lockers, he absolutely lost his mind. That group of trainees divided up jobs and selected members to fold their items so all of their T-shirts were exactly a quarter of an inch too wide thanks to a bad ruler. What followed was a frenzy of clothes being thrown out of the windows.

We spent hours folding our clothes getting ready for the inspection and I remember thinking to myself, "You have to be kidding. How does folding a 6-inch square T-shirt help me better serve my country?"

It took me a little while to figure it out, but I realized it wasn't about checking off a block or getting past an inspection, it was a tool used to teach invaluable and indispensable lessons.

These lessons are listed below in no particular order of importance:
  1. Constantly strive for excellence in ALL that you do. Mediocre is not good enough.
  2. No matter what you start out with - large, medium or small T-shirt - the end result has to be uniform and meet basic standards or requirements, nothing less.
  3. Never fear taking on what may initially appear to be an impossible task.
  4. Always use the proper ruler when measuring compliance (i.e. standards)
  5. Don't wait until the night before an inspection to "tidy up." Things should be at their best and ready for the inspector general at all times.
  6. Don't pass on your responsibilities to someone else. Do your own work and be accountable for it regardless of the outcome. Remember, integrity first.
The last lesson is a little more in-depth; it's all about pride of ownership. We all need to take ownership of the programs, resources and responsibilities entrusted to us by our nation and demonstrate the unwavering commitment we have to those we serve.

I could never adequately describe the amount of pride I have for the members of my unit and our wing as a whole, but I strive everyday to do so through my actions. It's my honor to serve with all these professional and dedicated Airmen. However, all of this would have never been possible without proper execution of the above lessons learned from basic training.

So I now ask each of you: "Is your T-shirt square?"