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April 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
“Men and women in uniform” is a curious stand-in for firefighters, police officers or members of the military. Isn’t clothing, like a book cover, something we shouldn’t use to label what’s inside? Using the phrase with other professions quickly becomes ridiculous. Lawyers and bankers become men and women in suit. Chefs become men and women in puffy white hats. Nurses and surgeons become men and women in teal jogging pants. When dealing with firefighters, police and the military, the words courage, sacrifice and service seem to fit better in the phrase.
Uniforms aren’t even exclusive to one type of group. I wore an orange Tiger Scout uniform in third grade, a red and black basketball uniform in high school and a Lone Star Steakhouse uniform that smelled like frying oil no matter how many scoops of detergent I used, which proves that uniforms don’t always convey prestige. So, why does the phrase above convey just that?
I think the fact that men and women of uniform have not one but two main uniforms is where the saying starts to gain momentum. Firefighters have hot, heavy jackets. Soldiers have fatigues, named for the hard, dirty work that must be done when wearing them. But both groups also have immaculate dress uniforms. That someone could wear such commanding, respected clothing only to take it off and crawl through fire or mud if necessary signifies the humility and dedication to service these people have.
This week, two photo essays (Page 8) show the work of six women who wear uniforms on behalf of all of us. Training is not easy, but they find ways to succeed. They have earned their gleaming dress uniforms and our respect. We salute them.