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Goldfein: Air Force Must Get Female Uniforms Right

More than 250 female Airmen fill the Community Activity Center for the first ever 82nd Training Wing Female Airmen Forum, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. Jacqueline Jastrzebski)
More than 250 female Airmen fill the Community Activity Center for the first ever 82nd Training Wing Female Airmen Forum, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. Jacqueline Jastrzebski)

No matter what the Air Force's next camouflage pattern ends up being, the service must get its next set of uniforms right for pilots and crew, including improved, more fitted uniforms for female airmen, the top general of the Air Force said Thursday.

"We're taking a really hard look at women's uniforms," Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters during a defense writers' group breakfast in Washington, D.C.

"Our uniforms have traditionally not been sized for women, and that's beyond just the uniform itself. It's also the gear that we have. We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits," Goldfein said.

"If you're in an F-15E [Strike Eagle] flying nine, 10-hour missions, the gear that we ask that pilot to wear ought to fit, ought to be functional for the mission we're asking them to do," he said.

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For example, Goldfein said combat vests and accompanying gear -- radios, flares, communications gear, survival equipment -- worn during such missions must be reworked to not only be functional, but also give pilots more maneuverability.

"You've got to be able to move inside that cockpit, be able to turn, to look around … and right now, women are pretty much wearing men's vests. And so we can do better than that," he said.

Goldfein said Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, is leading an effort within ACC to look at other avenues for proper gear, not just while in-flight but also performing missions on the ground.

He refused to answer questions about the potential Airman Battle Uniform replacement as that process is ongoing.

The Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, may become the Air Force's permanent replacement for the current Airman Battle Uniform as early as June 1, according to a recently leaked slide presentation. The presentation gave options for 24, 36 or 48-month transition periods for all airmen to move from the ABU to ACU, which incorporates the Army's Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP.

"We have a significant number of airmen who wear the OCP not only for daily duty but also downrange," Goldfein said Thursday.

Earlier this week, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright posted photos of himself wearing the OCP camo uniform, sparking more conversations about the uniform change-up.

Wright apologized for "trolling airmen" and getting them hyped up about the uniform, saying his intention was never to send mixed messages.

"Wow! I never thought I'd have to start a post off with 'my bad' but ... my bad!" Wright said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

"I saw a great photo from Cannon [Air Force Base, New Mexico] and thought, 'This would make a great profile pic,' but in hindsight, I can 100% see why some of you thought I was trolling you," he said.

Wright was wearing the uniform alongside airmen from the 27th Special Operations Group while attending last week's Air Force Special Operations Command's Chief Symposium, according to Air Force Times.

"I know a lot of you are anxiously awaiting the official word on uniforms," Wright said on Facebook.

"We are really -- like really -- close to making a decision. This is one of those large movements that we absolutely can't get ahead of ourselves on. It's tough sifting through the rumor-mill to make the right decision on your next uniform purchase and I get it. I work to be as transparent with you as possible. But right now, there is no decision -- either way," he wrote.

"Just know that as soon as we've made a decision and have a plan, we will get the word out to you. I promise," Wright said.

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

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