July 18, 2009: The new U.S. Air Force work uniform turned out to be warmer than the old one, which was a big hit to morale for airmen serving in torrid areas like the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Although the air force found out about the problem two years ago, a new, improved (and cooler) blouse (shirt) will not be available until this Summer is over. The new ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) was supposed to save money and improve morale. Introduced two years ago, it will not be mandatory until October, 2010 (to give everyone time to wear out the existing work uniforms).
However, there were problems with the fabric, which was supposed to be suitable for both 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 reluctantly developed a "tropic weight" version of the ABU. The heat problem was noted in late 2007, when the ABU first started showing up in Iraq, and has been causing much stress at USAF Headquarters ever since. But not enough stress to get the new lightweight blouse to the troops by this Summer. The troops are not amused.
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 stains 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.
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 were 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. 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. There are also 236 different sizes of the ABU (so the maximum number of people will get the best fit). The ABU goes for about $82 a set (jacket and trousers) on the net.