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Air Force Mulls Uniform Shift from ABUs to ACUs

Staff Sgt. Robert Kitchen sorts Airman Battle Uniforms at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, on Oct. 16, 2013. The Air Force is considering shifting from the ABU to the Army Combat Uniform. Master Sgt. David Miller/Air Force
Staff Sgt. Robert Kitchen sorts Airman Battle Uniforms at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, on Oct. 16, 2013. The Air Force is considering shifting from the ABU to the Army Combat Uniform. Master Sgt. David Miller/Air Force

The Air Force is weighing a decision to get airmen out of the Airman Battle Uniform and into the Army Combat Uniform, officials tell Military.com.

"The Air Force regularly reviews uniform policy and gathers feedback from airmen via a number of channels. One recommendation has been the movement from ABUs to ACUs," said Air Force spokeswoman Brooke Brzozowske.

"The Air Force uniform policy team is currently considering this feedback and working on possible courses of action," she said in a statement Friday.

Airmen have criticized the ABU -- first issued to new recruits in 2007 -- because they are required to add it to their wardrobe but don't utilize it as much as other uniforms, many say.

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Complaints range from the additional cost to questionable need for the ABU, especially given that deployed airmen have adopted the Army's Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP.

In 2014, to coincide with the Army, the Air Force announced that downrange airmen would wear the combat OCP camouflage pattern.

How quickly a change might be implemented is unknown. But there have been signs of movement since Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein's Revitalizing the Squadron initiative launched last summer, giving airmen a way to voice their opinions.

Goldfein, alongside Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, on Friday told airmen during an all-hands briefing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, that a number of uniform changes may be coming.

"We're looking at it. Here's the deal. Let's all agree to agree on a few things. Number one, uniforms matter. They matter to all of us," Goldfein said. "We want to feel good. ... want them to be functional.

"If you want to know what drives my decision-making going forward, it's about lethality and readiness; the business of warfighting," he said.

Goldfein, who is traveling this week to nuclear sites and Air Force bases across the U.S., added, "What is the battlefield uniform we need to perform that function. And if it's OCPs, and that's what we get to, then that's the decision we'll make.

"But I'm not racing at it because I want to get it right because once you make this decision, you better be ready for this decision to be in our Air Force for the next 20 years. So we're spending a lot of time looking at it. We're going to take our time to get it right," he said.

The news of the potential uniform switch comes one month after the Air Force said that airmen flying cargo airlift or helicopters -- anything aside from a fighter and without an ejection seat -- have been seen wearing the Army Aircrew Combat Uniform, known as the A2CU, more often.

"The two-piece [A2CU] uniform has OCP-patterned fabric and the same fire-retardant properties as the flight suit, making it certified for wear by pilots flying aircraft without ejection seats," said service spokeswoman Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff.

"Since the [uniform] pattern matches the OCP, it is often the uniform for downrange locations where many aircrews are operating," she said at the time.

The A2CU has also been in use stateside, Air Force officials said.

While there has been no official effort to adopt a new uniform, commanders across the force are giving some airmen the option to wear the A2CU as a duty uniform during training or while deployed.

For example, Air Mobility Command's director of operations authorized AMC pilots to wear the uniform for Exercise Mobility Guardian this summer, according to spokesman Col. Chris Karns.

"Some AMC pilots have opted to wear where authorized," he said in September.

Goldfein on Friday also hinted that women's uniforms may get an upgrade.

"It's beyond OCPs, by the way. It's about [dress] blues; it's about women's uniforms," he said.

"Women suffer in silence on many of the uniforms that don't fit. And they've never fit," Goldfein said. "The amount of money that women are spending altering essentially a men's uniform to fit a female frame is unsatisfactory. So we're going to get at this."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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