New camouflage uniforms to be issued to deployers

By Tech. Sgt. Jess Harvey: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON — Airmen deploying to Afghanistan in 2011 will see a new uniform issued to them as part of their deployment gear beginning in March.

While airmen have been faced with a slew of uniform changes in recent years, this new uniform is not a matter of image or heritage but instead has resulted from a joint initiative that ensures all outside-the-wire deployers in Afghanistan, regardless of branch of service, have the best ground combat uniform in order to enhance combat effectiveness.

According to Lt. Col. Shawna McGowan, the Air Force future programs branch chief, Air Force leaders collaborated with Army experts to develop a solution to meet evolving camouflage and fire-retardancy demands in theater.

The new uniform, called the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, or OCP, is the same uniform recently fielded in Afghanistan to U.S. soldiers, McGowan said.

“At first, airmen receiving the (Airman Battle System-Ground, or ABS-G) uniforms with mission responsibilities outside the wire in Afghanistan will have priority for the OCP.”

But the plan is for the OCP uniform to eventually become the only ground-combat uniform worn by airmen in Afghanistan both inside and outside the wire, she said. This also will minimize the number of bags airmen will carry into and out of the theater.

“The OCP uniform is scientifically developed to blend in with Afghanistan’s terrain, which will make our airmen safer and more effective on the battlefield,” she said. “The new material is also flame resistant and lighter weight than either the ABS-G or the (Airman Battle Uniforms, or ABUs).”

The material also contains a bug repellent to protect our deployed airmen, she added.

And, the colonel said, not only is this uniform better than its predecessors, but working jointly with the Army to use a tested uniform is the fiscally responsible thing to do.

“It’s not only a joint use of the best ground combat uniform available,” McGowan said, “it saves fiscal resources and also aligns with the National Defense Authorization Act language that encourages collaborative efforts between the services.”

Since the OCP is replacing the other uniforms, there also will be a savings that will come from not needing to store and supply both the ABS-G and ABU, she said.

This won’t be the first time airmen have worn this camouflage pattern in Afghanistan though.

“Some Air Force personnel who are assigned to Army units were already issued the OCPs in the Army fielding initiative that began in August,” said McGowan, who restated that these uniforms will be issued to individuals, and they won’t be covered out-of-pocket by airmen.

Individual units won’t even be authorized to purchase these uniforms for the foreseeable future, the colonel said.

“The only authorized OCP uniforms are those purchased and issued by Air Force Central Command,” McGowan said. “While some units are interested in procuring the OCP for training, future deployments and such, they won’t be authorized to do so because those orders would take away from supplies that are prioritized for the most at-risk deployers.”

The colonel emphasized that patience and teamwork are critical during any individual equipment transition and while actions to field the OCP as quickly as possible are ongoing, airmen should be reassured they will have them as soon as they can be fielded.

She also discouraged individuals from purchasing their own uniforms as that could result in them receiving non-tested, non-compliant uniforms that ultimately could put lives at risk. With any new uniform, ‘knock-offs’ are readily available and airmen need to use sound judgment and not spend personal funds on potentially non-compliant OCP assets, she said.

“Essentially, any unauthorized purchase of the OCP uniforms could result in putting airmen at risk either on the front lines or at home,” the colonel said.

She said switching to the OCP and having AFCENT as the sole issue point for these uniforms will meet the ultimate goal of ensuring that airmen are equipped with the best, most advanced uniform available today.