SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Air Force units around the world will be allowed to wear the Operational Camouflage Pattern beginning in October. The OCP is the same camouflage uniform the Army uses.
Last year, nearly 300 Airmen from the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa, were deployed to various locations around the world as part of the Reserve Component (deployment) Period. Because of the deployment requirements, these deploying Airmen received the OCP uniform.
According to Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Mareau, the 185th ARW Supply Superintendent, unit members who have already been issued the OCPs, can start wearing the uniform on the first of October. For Air National Guard members who have not been issued the OCP, Mareau said that the uniforms could be issued as early as fall of 2019.
"We're waiting on funding and guidance from the National Guard Bureau before we can press forward,” said Mareau.
According to the Air Force, although OCPs will be authorized to wear this fall, only select Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations such as Aviano Air Base, Charleston Air Force Base, Shaw Air Force Base and MacDill Air Force Base will authorize Airmen to purchase the OCP uniform because of supply needs. More AAFES locations where the uniforms can be purchased should become available spring 2019. According to the Air Force Personnel Center website, over 100,000 Airmen have been issued and/or are already wearing the OCP uniform.
Mareau said that 185th members would receive multiple sets of the uniform once funding is available. Mareau added if members wanted uniforms before being issued them, they can purchase them with their own money. Officials with AAFES clothing at Offutt Air Force Base stated that they have some uniforms but are only available for purchase to Airmen deploying.
The OCP is replacing the Airman Battle Uniform, a gray and sage green digital tiger-stripe uniform that most Airmen wear. The mandatory wear date for the ABU was October 2011 when it replaced both the woodland camouflage Battle Dress Uniform and Desert Camouflage Uniform. Unlike the BDUs which required pressing and boot polishing, the OCP uniform requires relatively low maintenance and will still be worn with suede boots, similar to the ABU.
Capt. Aaron Ware, the logistics readiness officer assigned to the 185th Air Refueling Wing, recently returned from a six-month deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, where he wore the OCP uniform.
"The overall comfort is better than the current uniform in place. The OCP feels lighter and its easy maintenance is a plus. The functionality of the uniform is also very appealing. The vertical style opening for pockets coupled with zipper systems and hook and loop closures make getting notepads and other objects faster and less obstructive than the ABU buttons,” Ware commented.
When it was first developed, the ABU was designed to match the Army's Universal Camouflage Pattern, but it was determined to be ineffective at concealment in the diverse terrains of Afghanistan. Both the Army and the Air Force have been issuing OCP uniforms to service members deploying to Afghanistan because it blends in with the environment. Ware agreed with military officials that OCP is a better uniform.
"It is night and day in the high ops tempo environments we work in, the OCP is a much better camo design and style for the multiple terrains we go into at home and abroad,” said Ware.
With the Air Force transitioning to the new uniform, Air Guard units like the 185th will see the return of unit patches, something that hasn't been a part of the Air Force uniform since BDU's were phased out in 2011. Airmen will be authorized to wear two patches per sleeve and a rank patch in the center of the coat, a significant change to a lengthy history of sleeve worn rank. Specific guidance on what patches Air National Guard members can wear on their sleeves has not yet been released. Non-flying Airmen will be allowed to wear the American flag on their right sleeve for the first time, similar to their aircrew counterparts. Unit patches are a return to Air Force heraldry and unit pride. Ware also agreed that because of the elimination of the sewn-on patches and rank, uniform maintenance is easier and more cost effective.
"The patches are an added perk to give you wear options and quick changes to the uniform, the hook and loop systems make changing rank and patches light speed,” said Ware.
The Air Force published guidance this summer concerning the wear of the new uniform. Some key points from Air Force Instruction 36-2903, dress and appearance include: The mandatory wear date for the OCP is April 1, 2021, Airmen are instructed to not mix ABU and OCP uniform items and instructions on wearing either Tan or Coyote Brown boots with the OCP until June 2020 when only brown will be authorized. April 2021 is also the mandatory wear date for the new two-piece OCP flight suit for pilots in non-ejection seat aircraft.