The Air Force is designing an updated version of its service dress blues uniform and could roll it out sometime next year, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said Wednesday.
To find inspiration for the new service jacket, the Air Force’s top leaders are looking to the past, he said.
“We’d like to get back to a little more heritage on the jacket,” Wright said, “potentially adding two additional pockets and bringing it into more of a military-style jacket.”
Changes to the dress blues, as well as a new, moisture-wicking PT uniform now in the works, could come out in mid- to late 2019, said the service’s top enlisted airman.
The revised service jacket could have two pockets across the chest, where airmen wear their nametags and ribbons, and two pockets parallel to them, immediately below, Wright said. The outer pockets on the current service jacket — one on the upper left, and two pocket flaps lower down — are decorative.
Several of the Air Force’s past service jackets, such as the classic uniform instituted by former Chief of Staff Gen. John McConnell in 1969 and worn until the early 1990s, had similar pocket patterns. This would bring the Air Force uniform closer to that worn by legendary airmen such as Chuck Yeager, Curtis LeMay and Robin Olds.
However, the so-called McPeak uniform, which was adopted under former Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak in the early 1990s, was unpopular and short-lived. Critics said airmen looked too much like commercial airline pilots in that service jacket.
Wright said the modern service jacket has drifted too far from the Air Force’s identity.
“It has kind of begun to mirror more of a business suit … than a military service uniform, so we want to make some changes in that arena,” Wright said.
There’s no particular era they’re looking at, he noted, but are drawing ideas from throughout the Air Force’s seven-decade history.
“We haven’t made any decisions just yet, but both the Chief [of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Dave Goldfein] and I like some of the historic, traditional uniforms that we’ve had," Wright said.
The Army is considering making a similar move by adopting its World War II-era “pinks and greens” service uniform. The retro move is highly popular with soldiers — more than 70 percent who responded to an Army Times survey gave pinks and greens the thumbs up, and said they’d like to see it come back as an optional item.
The Air Force could test some uniform prototypes next year and collect feedback from airmen on what works and what doesn’t, Wright said. The service has already done some work over the past year or so to update female airmen’s blue uniform, he said, but service jacket changes are now front and center.
Wright also said changes to PT uniforms could be coming next year. The Air Force is considering making its PT uniforms available in a moisture-wicking fabric, he said, so airmen in warmer environments aren’t as uncomfortable as they start sweating.
But the Air Force is unlikely to move away from the current PT uniform design.
“We like the uniform colors, we like the blue shorts, we like the gray, we like the design and everything," Wright said. "I think what probably needs to be updated is the fabric. We’d like to get our airmen in a uniform that’s made out of that sweat-resistant, moisture-wicking material.”
The Air Force also made a huge uniform change in May, when the service announced airmen will transition to the Army’s Operational Camouflage Pattern, or OCP, as the official utility uniform by April 2021.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.