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At the United States Air Force Academy, the first experience of a new cadet is the loss of personal “stuff” and hence individual identity. All material possessions — those that signify individual identity, safety or relationship — are taken from the cadet and replaced by “stuff” which indicate membership in the cadet wing. Clothing, jewelry, wallet, even hair, disappear as indexes of membership in an economic group. Pictures and address books vanish as symbols of connection with social groups in the broader world. Watches and calendars and money, reminders of being and safety, have no relevance as cadets move into the “other world” of the academy grounds.
Replacement “stuff” is utilitarian. Clothing is functional and suits its intended purpose to shelter and protect with a well-researched efficiency indicative of the military frame of mind. The clothing is easily cleaned and sanitized. It is even named in a military way — shirt, nonflying, blue; gloves, dress, white — indicating its function as well as obvious characteristics. It is most importantly uniform. The not so subtle m…