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Air Force tweaks OCP nametapes, insignia for easier reading

Looks like the Occupational Camouflage Pattern’s camo is so good you can’t even read names off of it.

The Air Force said Thursday it is tweaking the newly-adopted OCP uniforms to make things like nametapes and rank insignia easier to read or identify.

The OCP uniform, which the Air Force began shifting to in 2018, currently has a seven-color background for nametapes, service tapes, rank insignia, and badges. But now, the Air Force is switching to a lighter, three-color background.

“We received significant feedback that prompted this update,” Lisa Truesdale, Air Force military force management policy deputy director, said in the release. “The current rank insignia, badges, name, and service tapes on the OCP uniform are sometimes challenging to see against a seven-color background. Simplifying these features on a lighter, three-color pattern — while not compromising the overall functionality of the uniform — will improve our situational awareness in day-to-day interactions.”

While the OCP is vastly more popular than the old Airman Battle Uniform it is replacing, visibility of rank insignia suffered in the transition, especially on the enlisted side. The ABU worn by enlisted airmen had large, very visible rank insignia worn on the upper part of each sleeve.

But the OCP shifted the rank shown on its top part to a single, smaller insignia worn in the middle of the chest. This sometimes made it tricky to count the number of chevrons on someone’s chest and, for example, tell a senior master sergeant from a chief from a distance.

The old U.S. Air Force service tape, top, had a seven-color background, like the rest of the Occupational Camouflage Pattern uniform. The new service tape, bottom, has three lighter colors in the background, and is intended to be easier to read. (Air Force)
The old U.S. Air Force service tape, top, had a seven-color background, like the rest of the Occupational Camouflage Pattern uniform. The new service tape, bottom, has three lighter colors in the background, and is intended to be easier to read. (Air Force)

The popular Marine Corps comic strip Terminal Lance spoofed this dilemma in a 2010 entry called “The Stare.” In it, a hapless Marine struggles to decipher the blob of black rank on a senior noncommissioned officer’s collar to properly wish him good morning, but isn’t fast enough and is told, in true Marine fashion, “Too late, **** knuckles.”

In it, a hapless Marine sees an SNCO walking his way, but can’t decipher his rank. He rapidly rifles through ranks and settles on “Good morning, master sergeant!”

The name and service tapes for the Air Force will still use spice brown stitching on the lettering, as well as on the stitching for rank insignia and badges. Space Force members will still have blue stitching on their letters.

The Air Force Academy already started adopting the new backgrounds, when the cadets for its incoming class of 2024 arrived last month, the release said. Incoming airmen arriving at basic military training will get the updated backgrounds in October.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is beginning to transfer its inventories to the new name and service tapes, the Air Force said. The Defense Logistics Agency is placing orders for the new pattern as the old seven-color background is phased out, and the new three-color background materials should be in the inventory by November.

But the old seven-color background tapes, badges and insignias will remain authorized for wear, the Air Force said.

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