Air Force Uniforms

Air Force Uniforms

A variety of Air Force Uniforms on Display




The Battle Dress Uniform

Types of BDUs
   When I entered the military back in 1988, I was issued the OG-507 standard green cotton-polyester blend uniform fatigues (above left). We called it the ‘Pickle Suit’ because all us recruits looked like giant gherkins. Three months later, the Air Force changed to ‘Pickle Relish’, the multicolored woodland camouflaged Battle Dress Uniform (BDU, center). I was later issued the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU, above right) when I deployed to Saudi Arabia. So changes in uniform are not foreign to the Air Force.

What’s a GOBI?

   GOBI stands for ‘General Officer’s Bright Idea.’

   Here’s how it works: Some general officer, somewhere, will make an off-the-cuff statement, say something like, "If the front doors on our buildings were bright yellow, I could find them a lot easier," then rest assured, every door on every building will be painted bright yellow prior to 1700 (5:00 pm) the next day.

Here are more examples of GOBIs:

GOBI #1 – Patches on the BDUs

Background: Air Force flying personnel get their own distinctive uniform, the Air Force Flight Suit, also known as 'pajamas'. Whereas the unit patches, name tag and rank are sewn directly onto the BDU, they are attached to the flight suit with Velcro. This allows the flyers to quickly 'sanitize' their uniforms if they are shot down, and hide elements identification that a captor might use against them.

   So some general officer, somewhere, asked “Why don’t the BDUs use Velcro?” The next thing you know, the whole Air Force receives a supplement to the Air Force Instruction on uniform dress and appearance:


Supplement #1 to Air Force Instruction, Dress and Appearance of Military Personnel:

  1. Take the patches off the BDUs (see image below, far left).
  2. Attach a leather name patch directly over the left pocket with Velcro (center left).

After a few weeks, we receive Supplement #2:

   It has come to our attention, that with the Velcro flush against your BDU pocket, you can’t carry a pen. Therefore, make the following change:

  1. take the Velcro off and reattach it a half-inch above the left pocket (image below, center right).

A couple more weeks and we receive Supplement #3:

   Since we replaced the BDU shoulder rank with small text on a leather patch, it has become more difficult for officers to determine an airman’s rank. If an officer can’t see the rank, they don’t know who to pick to carry their luggage or make photocopies. So, make the following change:

  1. Sew the stripes back on the sleeves your BDUs (image below, far right).

And almost six months later, we receive Supplement #4:

   The Uniform Board is not happy with the appearance of the mix of leather and cloth accouterments on the BDUs. So, make the following change:

  1. Put your BDUs back to the way they were (image below, far left).



GOBI #2 – A BLUE  Battle Dress Uniform

   Some general officer, somewhere, made some comment about not being able to distinguish Air Force personnel from those of other services. Later that day, the entire Air Force receives notice that:

   The Uniform Board has decided that the Air Force needs a new camouflage uniform that is distinctly different from the uniforms of the Army and the Marine Corp’s.

   What they didn’t say is that they decided that if our uniforms were blue, that would surely be different!

Blue uniforms

Various proposals for a distinctively blue Air Force uniform


GOBI #3 – The Service Dress (Class A Uniform)


   General Merrill McPeak is credited with taking the rank off the shoulder of the Class A Service Coat, and putting braid around the sleeve. This caused several unforseen problems:

  1. Civilians kept mistaking Air Force officers for bus drivers or Cruise Line Directors.
  2. No one in the other services could figure out our rank structure.
  3. No one in our own service could figure out our rank structure.


GOBI #4 – A New Service Dress

   The old and new service coat. The new one is much more comfortable, being made of lighter material, having a business cut, a longer lapel, and three buttons instead of four — but some people can’t leave well enough alone:

   Some general officer, somewhere, said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to wear the old Army Air Corps uniform again?” He probably meant for one evening. But the Uniform Board started prototyping uniforms named after the great military leaders in our history: General Hap Arnold, and General Billy Mitchell.

Advocates of the new Heritage Uniforms brief the Uniform Board members.

The Mess Dress

Not all changes to the uniform are made by the Uniform Board.

The Mess Dress is the military equivalent of a civilian tuxedo. Some Air Force members convert their tuxedo shirts to 'party shirts.' In a party shirt, the white material of the sleeves and back are replaced with colorful Air-related prints. The Dress Uniform is still standardized... until you remove your dinner jacket.

  1. Sandra says:

    Loved that you used the picture of the shirt I made for my husband. Cheers, Sandra

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