Oh my God! Another uniform change? But my sage green boots still have tread! Sigh… As of April 1, 2021 (April Fools!!! No, not really), the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) became the standard uniform for the USAF. The OCP replaces the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) that the AF “borrowed” from the Army’s Combat Uniform (ACU), which THEY “borrowed” from —

Sorry, gotta snap out of that rabbit hole…

Uniform History

When I raised my right hand and swore an oath, all the way back in the prehistoric late ’90s, the Air Force wore the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). Just like the Army and the Marines… not the Navy, though. The Navy was still in those Village People dungaree combos.

In 2011, the AF officially dropped the BDU to usher in the age of the tiger stripe. The digital tiger stripe was a throwback to special operator tiger-stripe patterns from the Vietnam War. The first patterns tested weren’t great, but they got better.

Navy SEALs in Vietnam wearing tiger-stripe uniforms
U.S. Navy SEALs wore locally produced tiger-stripe uniforms in Vietnam – and yes, blue jeans were also commonly worn by the frogmen. (U.S. Navy)

The tiger stripe pattern was never an official uniform but was used extensively in Vietnam both by operators and by anyone else who could get their hands on it. It looked cool, though, so in the mid-2000s, the Air Force went for it.

But Why?

In 2001-02, the U.S. Marine Corps developed and rolled out the MarPat camo pattern and uniform. The Marines wanted something highly functional and easy to wear and maintain. Further, the camo pattern helped them “blend in” when needed. 

The Uniform of the Day for MCB Hawaii is currently the Woodland Marine Pattern (MARPAT) Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU) with the sleeves rolled up. (Photo by Cpl. Adam Korolev/USMC)

Oddly enough, the Marines went with the most distinct pattern around. Apparently, the Corps wants its Marines to be instantly recognizable, but able to go chameleon when needed. Hooah!

The Army and Air Force jumped on that bandwagon, and within five years, both branches had their own distinctive uniforms, just like the Marines. That reminds me of a saying: “You are your own unique individual. Just like everybody else.”