Next fall's Air Force Academy cadets will be the first to wear new Gore-Tex raincoats as part of their uniform. (Air Force)
Next fall, Air Force Academy cadets in the incoming class of 2018 will be the first to get new Gore-Tex raincoats as part of their official blue service uniform.
Col. Michael Pipan, director of training support for the academy’s commandant of cadets and chairman of its uniform board, said in an Oct. 10 interview that upper classes will receive the raincoats later, as soon as the academy can outfit them.
The raincoat is one of a number of changes approved at the academy’s last uniform board meeting in April to provide better protection in bad weather or more durability in training, or to improve cadets’ appearance.
Cadets already have a lightweight jacket, a parka and an overcoat as part of their uniform, but Pipan said those options provide little protection against rain.
“As we returned to more wear of the blue uniform, it became apparent to cadets and the commandant [Brig. Gen. Gregory Lengyel] that we really lacked a good, all-weather blue uniform option,” Pipan said. “This [new raincoat] will allow us to be that proud ‘sea of blue’ that we expect in noon meal formation, parades and football games.”
The academy used to only require its cadets to wear their blues Tuesdays through Thursdays, but moved them to Mondays through Wednesdays in 2008, after former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz ordered all airmen to wear their blue uniform on Mondays to improve the service’s image and professionalism.
The current chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, canceled the servicewide requirement last year, but the academy has kept its cadets wearing blues on Mondays. Cadets now wear blues Mondays through Thursdays and the Airman Battle Uniform on Fridays.
The addition of this raincoat will bring cadet’s inclement weather clothing options closer to those of other airmen, while still maintaining the blue color scheme of the academy’s uniforms.
Chief Master Sgt. Kecia Uyeno, the Air Force’s chief of uniform programs and policies, said in an email that airmen who work in areas requiring rainy weather gear are often issued an All Purpose Environmental Clothing System (APECS) jacket, which is made with a Gore-Tex-type fabric. APECS jackets also are available for purchase from Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores.
The board discussed details on the construction of other already-approved new clothing items at an Oct. 17 uniform board meeting, such as:
■ Add black combat boots to the blue uniform options. The boots would provide more protection during inclement weather than the black low quarter shoes that are currently the only uniform option, Pipan said. The board will discuss how the boots should be constructed.
■ Add earmuffs to cadets’ uniform cold-weather gear.
■ Replace the Airman Battle Uniform over the next few years with a more durable, tear-resistant Ripstop ABU of the same type issued to the rest of the Air Force. Pipan said the new RABU will hold up better as cadets go through obstacle courses and other intense physical training. The RABU will be phased in as the existing stock of old ABUs is depleted.
■ Replace current leather rappelling gloves with new gloves made largely of a synthetic material with leather on the palms. Pipan said the current leather gloves don’t flex well when they get wet.
■ Lengthen the athletic jacket. Pipan said that when cadets salute while wearing the current athletic jacket, it lifts up and exposes part of their shirt, and a longer jacket would correct that problem.
“A very slight change there will make a huge impact on dress and appearance,” Pipan said.
■ Replace current athletic shorts with shorts made of a high-wicking non-mesh fabric.
■ Phase out jockstraps for male cadets, and replace their traditional briefs with boxer briefs.
The board also was scheduled to discuss plans to replace cadets’ belt-and-canteen system with Camelbak-style hydration systems, which Pipan said hold more water, do not get lost as easily and are much easier to drink from while moving.