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PACAF Command Chief Master Sgt. David Popp, wearing the service’s new blue BDUs, shows off the Air Force’s proposed physical training uniform: a blue sweat suit with reflective material, shorts and a gray T-shirt. Popp talked Friday to enlisted troops at Misawa Air Base, Japan. He’s been visiting Air Force bases in Okinawa and Japan wearing what’s expected to be the new Air Force utility uniform.

PACAF Command Chief Master Sgt. David Popp, wearing the service’s new blue BDUs, shows off the Air Force’s proposed physical training uniform: a blue sweat suit with reflective material, shorts and a gray T-shirt. Popp talked Friday to enlisted troops at Misawa Air Base, Japan. He’s been visiting Air Force bases in Okinawa and Japan wearing what’s expected to be the new Air Force utility uniform. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Pacific Air Forces Command Chief Master Sgt. David Popp was easy to spot during his recent stops at bases in Japan and Okinawa.

Popp was the one in the blue fatigues.

PACAF’s top enlisted man, Popp met with airmen at Kadena, Yokota and Misawa air bases, wrapping up his two-week visit at Misawa Friday with an enlisted call in Hangar 949.

The purpose of his trip was two-fold, he said: To lead the senior noncommissioned-officer induction ceremonies and seminars, and gauge the morale and readiness of the troops for new PACAF commander, Gen. Paul V. Hester.

“My message is: ‘Thank you for your service to your country. Thank you for your sacrifice because not all Americans are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our way of life and also to help others,’” he said.

But it was Popp’s blue-gray- and-green tiger-stripes and eight- point hat that garnered the most attention and discussion during his Misawa visit.

Questions from Misawa airmen about the proposed new uniform ranged from whether they’ll be able to alter sleeve length to how starch-free the attire will be.

“How long will it be … three months … before they’ll be telling us it’s got to be pressed?” asked one airman.

The Air Force is touting the uniform as “wash and wear.” Unlike the current battle dress uniform, it doesn’t need starching, dry cleaning or ironing to look professional, officials say, which will save airmen time and money. Popp said his uniform required only 35 minutes in the dryer and no ironing.

“That’s one of the selling features,” he said.

But, addressing the airman’s question, Popp said he understood the concern, since the current BDU was also supposed to be wash and wear.

“So I hear what you’re saying,” Popp told him. “I wish I could tell you that you’ll never starch this.… If that’s the way they’re advertising it, we need to make sure that it truly is wash and wear.”

Popp has already suggested, he said, that more perma-press chemicals be added to the uniform’s material “so it truly does look like it has a crease.” Others have recommended sewing a crease into the sleeves and legs, he said.

“The key word is this is still a test uniform,” Popp said, advising airman to submit their suggestions or concerns at: http://www.af.mil/uniform. The Air Force is still seeking feedback about the proposed uniform.

More than 500 airmen are testing the uniform at nine different bases; PACAF’s test base is Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Airmen in the fields of operations, maintenance, support and medical are documenting how many hours they wear the uniform, the detergents and wash cycles they use to launder it, and whether they note any problems, such as fading, Popp said.

Popp said he’s received mostly positive feedback on the uniform. “Many people are saying it truly is a distinct uniform to the Air Force,” Popp said. But “it’s very blue. They say, ‘Chief, is there any way that we can tone down the blue?’”

Popp said the uniform is meant to make airmen distinctive from members of the other services at their home station; they’ll be issued other uniforms when they deploy depending on the combatant commander’s wishes.

Air Force officials say the proposed colors represent current and past uniform colors: The blue represents the service dress, the sage green represents the flight suit, the tan represents the desert uniform and the gray is from an old utility uniform. The tiger- stripes pattern was worn during the Vietnam War era.

Popp said the Air Force is expected to make a decision early next year. “Then, I would say, four years from now all of us will be wearing the new utility uniform,” he added.

Also during his base visits, Popp showed airmen the Air Force’s proposed physical training uniform: A blue sweat suit with reflective material, shorts and a gray T-shirt.

The gear — the service’s first authorized PT uniform for squadron fitness programs — is supposed to be introduced early this fall, but Popp said there are “design problems,” explaining that the Air Force is looking for a contractor or vendor to make a quality uniform.

The work-out clothing would be issued to enlisted members, with officers required to buy the uniform.

Popp said servicemembers would be able to pack the uniform on deployments. “When we deploy, we’re not authorized to take a lot of civilian clothes with us, so now we have an optional set of clothes.”

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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