Morale: It's Too Damn Hot

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April 1,2008: The new U.S. Air Force ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) [PHOTO]was supposed to save money and improve morale. Introduced last year, it will not be mandatory until 2011 (to give everyone time to wear out the existing work uniforms). There have been some serious problems, and the air force is trying to deal with the heat, and the dirt.

Initially, the ABU was quite popular. Because supplies were initially limited, some air force personnel spent their own money to buy foreign knockoffs (which are available on the Internet) of the ABU. The troops are eager to get the new ABU, with its tan, gray, green and blue camouflage pattern, mainly because of the low maintenance aspects. The ABU is permanent press, wash and wear and more comfortable to wear. No ironing needed, and you cannot use starch on them. The new boots that go with the ABU are suede green, and cannot be polished. That's another big draw. Basically, the ABU is popular because it's less work, not because it's got a snappy new camouflage pattern. The ABU goes for about $82 a set (jacket and trousers) on the net.

However, there were problems with the fabric, which was supposed to be suitable for temperate and tropical climates. One uniform replaced two. Troops in Iraq found the new ABUs warmer than the older uniforms, mainly because of the thicker wash and wear fabric, and the large map pocket on the inside. Some airmen have been going to local tailors to have the map pocket removed, to make the ABU cooler. Not cool enough, however. The air force is reluctantly developing a "tropic weight" version of the ABU. The heat problem was noted late last year, when the ABU first started showing up in Iraq, and has been causing much stress at USAF Headquarters ever since.

The air force doesn't really want to have two versions of the ABU. There are already 236 different sizes of the ABU (so the maximum number of people will get the best fit). One option is to make the "Summer weight" version the only one. In temperate climates, you can always put a jacket on, or wear a thermal t-shirt.

And then there was the problem with dirt and oil, of the kind normally encountered by the people who maintain aircraft. The ABU does not shed that crud as easily as the old work uniforms. If you make a major effort, you can get the flight line crap out of an ABU, but after a few months of this, the uniform looks like hell. The air force is working on that problem as well.

 


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