Oregon Airmen bid farewell to the BDU

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy
  • Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office
For anyone in the Air Force, Air National Guard or Reserve, today marks a milestone in the service's history. For those who have been Airmen for more than a few years, today is especially significant.

It is the day the Air Force officially says goodbye to the Battle Dress Uniform, or BDU. A number of Oregon Air National Guard members who work at the Oregon Military Department agreed to wear their BDU on the last day the Air Force authorized its use--October 31.

The BDU has been in active use by the United States military since September 1981. Its' distinctive woodland camouflage pattern is based on Vietnam-era jungle fatigues, which found their roots in specialty uniforms used by U.S. paratroopers during WWII.

The pattern, which uses shades of green, brown, tan and black, is primarily based on the woodland colors of Northern Europe. It was initially printed on a cotton-nylon blend twill cloth, but was updated in 1989 to a lightweight fabric printed on 100-percent rip-stop poplin cloth. The BDU replaced all early camouflage patterned uniforms for wooded, jungle and tropical environments, and by 1989, had completely replaced the standard olive drab uniforms used since 1952.

The U.S. Army adopted the BDU on Oct. 1, 1981 as their field and garrison uniform, and wore it proudly until early 2005, before instituting the Army Combat Uniform, or ACU. The BDU pattern didn't just help military members blend into forests during the day.

All BDU's were printed on a special fabric which allowed the wearer to go undetected by infrared image converters, making them nearly invisible at night. However, the tradition of starching the uniform for a more formal appearance increased the infrared signature. It was said that once a BDU was starched it should never be worn in combat.

The Air Force replaced it with the Airman Battle Uniform, or ABU which was issued to Air Force personnel as part of Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) 7 and 8 in early 2007. It was also issued to basic trainees, and became available to the rest of the force in June 2008.

The ABU incorporates medium to light gray color based on a distinctive Vietnam-era "tigerstripe" pattern, and is made with a 50-50 nylon-cotton blend in the same material used by the Army Combat Uniform, or ACU. Chief Master Sgt. David Gardner, Management Analyst for the Oregon Military Department, said he likes the new uniform with its wash and wear feature.

"The ABU is much easier to care for," he said. "There was a lot of upkeep with the BDU."

Indeed, as a sheet metal mechanic earlier in his military career, Gardner went through quite a few BDUs over the years.

"I must have gone through at least 40 or 50 sets, and a pair of boots every six months to a year," Gardner said.

Capt. Dawn Choy, Supervisory Human Resources Specialist at JFHQ, said she likes the new style of the ABU, as well as the extra pockets, durability and ease of wear, but wasn't completely sold on the sage green suede boots.

"The uniform color and sage green boots are cool, just harder to keep nice and clean," she said.

One feature which won't carry over from the BDU to the ABU is the unit patches, leaving many with mixed feelings.

"It was interesting to see where everyone was from when we traveled with other military members," Choy said.

"Many military used to trade and/or collect them throughout their careers." Gardner had a different take.

"I do miss the unit patches, they give each unit their own identity," he said.

"But I think we are moving toward all services in one uniform and the one team concept so the patches would not work with that mind set.

" Just like opinions on the ABU versus the BDU, so too are the range of ideas on what to do with the old uniform. "Hunting clothes," replied Gardner.

Capt. Choy has a list of plans for hers. "I plan to keep one uniform intact for history sake," she said.

"One pair of pants I will make into shorts, and one set will turn into a tote bag, with the already made pockets and all. The rest I will probably donate to the Oregon Civil Air Patrol."

Master Sgt. Sheryl Derrick, who works in the Human Resources Office at the Oregon Military Department said the last day to wear her old BDU on Halloween isn't much of a coincidence.

"In fact, I'm surprised the last day (to wear it) wasn't April Fool's day," she said with a laugh.

Derrick said she has never been fond of the unit patches, but she realizes they might come in handy someday for her shadowbox.

"Unless they become collector's items," she added. "Then I'll sell them!"

While Derrick plans to keep her BDUs, she said she might someday donate them to a museum. Unfortunately it appears someone already got the jump on Derrick's idea. A set of BDUs worn by Gen. Colin Powell during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm now sits in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.