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The Air Force Should Reevaluate Its Switch to the Operational Camouflage Pattern Uniform

  • Published
  • By Cadet Lakin C. Tucker, Air Force ROTC


When the Air Force announced that the service would switch to the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform by 1 April 2021, there were some mixed reactions. For the most part, Airmen were happy and excited for an updated uniform change. It was said that the change would be made to help Airmen better fit in on the battlefield and improve joint integration, which are both very good reasons to enact this change. However, I would propose the idea that maybe the Air Force should not entirely switch to the same OCP pattern that the Army uses.

(US Air National Guard photo by Ryan White)

Figure 1. Processing new Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms. A1C Julie Carr, TSgt Samuel Branch, and SSgt Brian Elton review supply paperwork while processing new OCP uniforms for 124th Fighter Wing Airmen at the 124th Logistics Readiness Squadron warehouse, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, 22 January 2020. The 124th FW is transitioning from wearing the Airman Battle Uniform to OCP this year.

I am proposing this idea as a result of an experience I had with one of my friends just a few weeks ago. My friend was walking around his college campus (the same campus where I take part in Air Force ROTC) when he saw an Army ROTC cadet in her OCPs waiting at the bus station. Immediately, my friend texted me the name of the cadet, thinking she was a part of the Air Force ROTC, to see if I knew who she was. I, of course, did not know the cadet because she was a member of the Army detachment, not the Air Force one. I then sent him two photos, one of the Air Force Airman Battle Uniform pattern and the other of the Army OCP pattern, and asked him which photo her uniform looked like. He confirmed that she was in fact wearing the OCP pattern, which, therefore, led me to explain to him that she was an Army cadet and not an Air Force cadet. I then further explained to him that before too long one would be unable to tell an Army service member apart from an Air Force service member by merely the pattern of their uniform. This, of course, would be because they would eventually be wearing the same pattern. This idea puzzled him, and he asked me, “Why would two different services wear the same uniform?” When he asked me this, I did not know how to respond, because I had never really thought of it myself.

I pondered my friend’s question for several weeks thereafter, thinking about the confusion that two different military services wearing almost the same uniform could cause to the general public. I understood the Air Force’s reasoning for the switch for the tactical advantages that the pattern provides in different climates and accepted the fact that it probably is the best uniform for those deployed to potentially dangerous overseas situations. However, what about those Airmen who are stateside (CONUS), shouldn’t they wear something that distinguishes them from other services of our nation’s military?

My solution to this question is not a great one, and by all means, it is simply a suggestion that I am throwing out there for someone much more senior to me to consider. However, what if we had Airmen who are stationed CONUS wear a uniform pattern that looked nothing like any other service’s? That way, the general public of the country knows exactly which service an Air Force member belongs to as soon as they walk in the room. For example, the service could use a pattern similar to the Navy’s old Type I uniform pattern, with a mixture of various shades of blue, dark and lighter grays, and black tactical boots to top off the uniform. In my opinion, I just think this would be a way to boost morale for the entire service and help our US civilians distinguish Air Force service members from their Army counterparts.

Looking ahead, I am not against the Air Force’s idea to switch to the OCP uniform. I believe it is a very good-looking, tactically advantageous uniform that will be a great benefit to the entire service. However, I am suggesting the idea that down the road maybe we should look into designing our own signature uniform to set ourselves apart.

Cadet Lakin C. Tucker, Air Force ROTC

Cadet Tucker is a second-year cadet in West Virginia University’s Air Force ROTC (Detachment 915). He is a ROTC high school scholarship recipient and wants to become a civil engineer once he commissions into the Air Force. Outside of school he enjoys weightlifting, watching sports, and fishing.

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