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What to do with old ABU’s? 908th Airlift Wing Airman has the answer

Man stands in front of cargo.

Senior Airman Michael Sanchez, a passenger services agent with the 908th Airlift Wing’s 25th Aerial Port Squadron, came up with the idea to donate outdated Airman Battle Uniforms to the Civil Air Patrol. Sanchez is a former cadet who now serves as the Group II noncommissioned officer advisor and historian in CAP’s Georgia Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Max Goldberg)

man placing clothing into a box

Senior Airman John Marta, 908th Airlift Wing 25th Aerial Port Squadron cargo specialist, places Airman Battle Uniforms in a donation box at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Senior Airman Michael Sanchez, 25th Aerial Port Squadron passenger services agent and former CAP cadet, started collecting the uniforms to help youth who desire to become CAP members but can’t afford the uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm, 908th Airlift Wing Public Affairs)

clothing in a box

Airman Battle Uniforms, donated by 908th Airlift Wing Airmen, await transportation to the Civil Air Patrol Headquarters on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The ABU is the official uniform of the CAP and no longer authorized for official military wear. Senior Airman Michael Sanchez, 25th Aerial Port Squadron passenger services agent and former CAP cadet, started collecting the uniforms to help youth who desire to become CAP members but can’t afford the uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm, 908th Airlift Wing Public Affairs)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

The basic United States Air Force uniform has changed a couple times over the past 15 years, moving away from the standard Battle Dress Uniform (woodland camouflage pattern) which Airmen had worn for nearly 30 years prior.

On October 2, 2007, Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas began issuing trainees the Airman Battle Uniform; then April 1, 2018, marked the beginning of the end of the ABU in favor of the Operational Camouflage Pattern, shared with the U.S. Army. 

No longer authorized for official wear, many Airmen don’t know what to do with their old ABU’s.  Some have discarded them or relegated them to work clothes. Others have stuffed them into storage. Senior Airman Michael A. Sanchez, a passenger services agent with the 908th Airlift Wing’s 25th Aerial Port Squadron, had a better idea: collect and donate them to the Civil Air Patrol.

The CAP, whose mission is to “transform youth into dynamic Americans and aerospace leaders,” is a congressionally-chartered, federally-supported non-profit corporation. The all-volunteer organization serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force and provides community support such as search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian services, as well as an aerospace education program. Their official uniform is the ABU.  

Sanchez is a former cadet who now serves as the Group II noncommissioned officer advisor and historian in CAP’s Georgia Wing.  

“It’s an outstanding program to be involved in as kid,” he said. “It not only taught me how to live by the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all I do, but it taught me discipline, attention to detail, and how to be a better citizen.”

However, Sanchez noted, many young American’s don’t join because they can’t afford the uniforms.

The CAP doesn’t solicit donations, but will accept them with the exception of boots and socks. So, when Air Force Reserve Command officially transitioned from the ABUs to the OCPs, it dawned on him that the National CAP Headquarters, located on Maxwell AFB, could distribute them to units around the country and help get more kids involved. 

He began by placing two large donation boxes in his building to receive donations from his teammates and enlisting the help of the Reserve and Active Duty Public Affairs offices to spread the word. Since then the boxes have filled up nearly as fast as Sanchez can empty them.

Chief Master Sgt. Tracey J. Piel, 25th APS aerial port manager, couldn’t be prouder of the Reserve Citizen Airman’s initiative and creativity.

“When one of my Airmen approaches me with an idea that he or she wants to develop, or a problem with a solution, it is like winning that enormous stuffed animal at the county fair,” she said. “I’m excited because I appreciate their forward thinking and I recognize that these are the men and women who will one day be at the top of our organization.”

Piel explained the USAF and the CAP are on the same team but with different approaches in our efforts to defend the U.S. and its citizens.  A firm believer in helping where and when capable, she views the ABU donation effort as a way to strengthen the Air Force-CAP relationship.

“Airmen are uniting for a cause while providing for our CAP partners who in turn provide the Air Force and community with invaluable support,” she said. “It’s a win-win.” 

The Civil Air Patrol has five congressionally mandated missions:

  1. To provide an organization to encourage and aid citizens of the United States in contributing their efforts, services, and resources in developing aviation and in maintaining air supremacy; and encourage and develop by example the voluntary contribution of private citizens to the public welfare.
  2. To provide aviation education and training especially to its senior and cadet members.
  3. To encourage and foster civil aviation in local communities.
  4. To provide an organization of private citizens with adequate facilities to assist in meeting local and national emergencies
  5. To assist the Department of the Air Force in fulfilling its non-combat programs and missions.

According to CAP Col. Jayson A. Altieri, past Chairman, CAP Board of Governors and Alabama Wing member, Senior Airman Michael Sanchez’s efforts to put the phased out ABUs into to the hands of CAP members is both a cost-saving measure for volunteers and is in keeping with the spirit of the Total Air Force.  

“CAP, through our congressionally mandated Aerospace, Cadet, and Emergency Services programs, saves the total US Air Force millions of dollars annually by freeing up Active Duty, Air National Guard, and Reserve assets for other critical homeland security missions,” he said.  “Airman Sanchez’s efforts to help equip members with serviceable field uniforms means our CAP volunteers can refocus their efforts and financial contributions to other lines of effort.”

Captain George Yarchak, CAP Maxwell Composite Squadron deputy commander for cadets, is grateful for the donations of field uniforms which are important to supply cadets who range in age from 12 to 18 years old.

“I am proud of the tradition and relationship we share with the Active, Guard, and Reserve Units of the USAF,” he said. “We are honored to wear the ABU field uniforms.”

Items should be clean, serviceable, and free from name tapes, but there’s no requirement to have them dry-cleaned or remove any unit patches, rank, or service tapes. Donations of dress blues and shoes are also accepted.