JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
To honor the legacy service members create, an Airman in technical training saw an opportunity to generate a program resulting in the donation of more than 1,000 sought-after stripes within a six-month period.
“The Legacy Stripes Program was started while I was in technical school at Fort Sam Houston,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Shoemaker, 673d Medical Group biomedical equipment technician. “I found myself in a situation where I was at an Army post struggling to find the stripes I needed when I was promoted to Airman 1st Class.”
Looking for another way to obtain it, he went to an alterations shop, only to find out they were just throwing out the old ones when service members would have their new stripes sewn on.
“It struck me that large amounts of people were getting promoted every day and the one constant thing, no matter what is going on in their lives, is their rank,” Shoemaker said. “Just like a flag’s history is valued, there should also be a level of respect shown for the legacy of the person having worn those stripes. To me, something as significant as this being thrown away just didn’t seem right.”
The decision was made to try and correct the two-fold problem. Shoemaker and his fellow wingman, Airman 1st Class Anthony Robbins, went to work right away launching the program and coming up with ideas, establishing ways for stripes to be given new life.
“Officially how LSP works is when you are promoted and your rank is removed, we ask that you sign the back of your rank with your initials, signifying the rank has been through something with someone, and then drop it into one of the donation boxes,” Shoemaker said. “Volunteers collect and check them to make sure they are usable and appropriate, meeting Air Force instruction standards. They are then matched together and redistributed to Airmen in need of the stripes.”
Though it was started as a small dormitory program, it picked up momentum when several high-ranking Air Force officials recognized the significance and started donating their insignia.
“All signed and donated stripes… have been directly put back into the program,” said Shoemaker. “It is important to us that the initialed stripes serve as a reminder for the Airmen wearing them that someone else was once in their shoes. They all started off in the same ranks, going through similar situations, and can look back at the legacy they have created.”
Although the concept of passing down one’s stripes is not new, a program salvaging pairs to be reused is.
“We wanted to do something out of the ordinary to help Airmen out,” said Robbins, 56th Medical Supply Squadron biomedical equipment technician. “This program is all about passing down stripes to fellow Airmen, giving them a sense of being part of something bigger and greater than themselves.”
For Airmen promoting, the Legacy Stripes Program can cut down on financial hardship, while carrying on and upholding a legacy.
“Like many have said, it is easy to get caught up in the daily tasks and forget who you are, what you are doing, and how big your impact actually is on the mission,” Shoemaker said. “Our hope for this program is to impact Airmen on a daily basis, helping them to never forget the legacy they are building.”
For more information, email LegacystripesUSAF@gmail.com.