Air Force plans new BDUs

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 8, 2003

ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s an Air Force blue BDU.

Predominantly blue tiger stripes could be the pattern of the Air Force’s next battle dress utility uniform, though the proposed pattern looks more like a topographical map of mountains and water instead of a fierce jungle animal.

“We wanted something distinctively Air Force,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jacqueline Dean, chief of the Air Force Uniform Board.

Moving past the baby blue backdrop and streaks of Navy blue, gray and beige, Dean points out “some exciting” changes, with the no-need-to-starch topping list, an annual savings of $180 to $240 in laundry or dry cleaning costs, she said.

And instead of just small, medium or large from which to choose, they come in men’s and women’s sizes. For example, 32-, 34-, 36-inch waist sizes for men and jacket sizes such as 40, 42, 44. Women won’t have to wear men’s uniforms, Dean said, and can choose from the traditional women’s clothing sizes such as 6, 8, and 10.

But does blue blend?

Surprisingly, yes — in 80 percent of already tested environments, according to Chief Master Sgt. Rick Arnold, manager of the Air Force’s Survivor Evasion Resistance and Escape Special Forces program.

“If I were to lie in the middle of the grass … yes, you’d see me,” he said. “But hiding next to the tree, I blend in because of the underside of some of the leaves. I was standing next to a blue spruce [in testing] and it worked great.”

The uniform also passed tests done in a lab with night vision goggles, provided the person wasn’t moving much, he said. “The biggest thing is one on the move. If you’re moving, up and running, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got on. But when hiding in the brush, this uniform worked well.”

Only 3 percent of the Air Force population — the Special Forces component — needs to be concerned with wearing uniforms that camouflage them in their environment, Dean said. “That means for 97 percent of the population, that’s not an issue.”

Since the mid-1980s, the Air Force simply has borrowed the Army’s woodland camouflage uniform. But, much like the Marine Corps did a few years back, Air Force leaders wanted a BDU to call their own. Though the Air Force did not adopt the computerized digital pattern of the Corps, it did got with the idea of an embossed logo and with the same manufacturer, American Players out of Massachusetts.

Keep in mind, however, the uniform unveiled Wednesday, is only a test, Dean said.

The uniform features an inside map pocket, a utility pocket, an inner pencil pouch, and a rigger’s belt. The large pockets at the base of the jacket have been removed so that it can be tucked in if desired, Dean said. It’s made of 50 percent cotton and 50 percent polyester, which lends to its wash-and-wear capability.

Ramstein Air Base in Germany will be one of nine bases asked to have airmen field-test the proposed BDU, slated to be the only utility uniform airmen will wear.

A Web site will be set up in January so airmen can log their comments.

Because it has not been field tested yet, Dean had no idea how much the uniforms might cost airmen, though she guess a price increase could range from $5 to $10 more per uniform.

Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Arnold, manager for the Air Force's Survivor Evasion Resistance and Escape special forces program, models a prototype of the proposed utility uniform, featuring mostly blues and grays and a little green. Arnold is part of the 3 percent of airmen who need to be concerned with camouflaging properties of a battle dress uniform, and preliminary tests indicate the new blue BDU is camouflaged in 80 percent of tested environments.

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