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CSAF defers heritage coat decision, focuses on current uniform issues

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz decided on Aug. 28 to defer a decision on the Air Force heritage coat until the summer of 2009 to address current uniform issues, according to a senior Air Force official.

"We are going to fix, improve and upgrade uniforms in our current inventory," said Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services.

The goal is to provide the best uniform and equipment to Airmen in order to allow them to best carry out their mission, he said.

The decision came as part of the senior leader strategic summit at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., Aug. 27.

The service's top enlisted Airman applauded the decision.

"Our Airmen spend their hard-earned money on these uniforms, and we owe it to them to do the research, development and quality assurance necessary to guarantee every uniform item put on the shelf is right the first time," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley.

"We don't want to have to come back and fix something we've already fielded. I'm confident our efforts to improve physical training uniforms, the Airman Battle Uniform and ABU boots will yield satisfactory results," he said.

General Newton said making changes will take time.

"We continue to strive to provide our Airmen uniforms that are functional and practical all the while exuding the sense of pride that our Airmen have serving this great nation and our Air Force," General Newton said.

A few of the uniform concerns the service will look at are a lighter-weight ABU for hot-weather climates, better-fitting PT clothing and a quieter material for the warm-up jacket and pants, General Newton said.

ABU boots are another uniform item the Air Force wants to get right. General Newton said the quality of boots is important to today's expeditionary Air Force and for the future.

Airmen are being tasked to do jobs that are different than previous missions required in years gone by, General Newton said.

The Air Force recently certified another manufacturer for ABU boots, said Ruth Ewalt, chief of Air Force Uniform Programs and Policy. Before certifying the company, Air Force officials considered the company's more than 40-year history of manufacturing boots, and that it had produced several types of boots for the Army and Navy.

"Our acceptance of their product was also a result of positive feedback collected after extended wear by male and female cadets at the Air Force Academy," Ms. Ewalt said.

Issues considered by Air Force officials included blistering, contusions, sprains, swelling and general pain that may have been associated with the boots, she said.

"The boots are manufactured in sizes for both genders and will be issued to new basic trainees beginning no later than Oct. 1," Ms. Ewalt said.

"As a result of feedback from individuals in industrial environments -- such as our aircraft maintainers and fuels experts -- new stain-resistant materials are being tested for our boots," Ms. Ewalt said. "Once a new material is selected, boots made with that new material will not be available for approximately two years."

General Newton said the Air Force has listened to the uniform concerns of its Airmen. It recently conducted the first-ever virtual uniform board.

The board considered 109 initiatives out of more than 900 received, many of which were duplications or already in the process of being resolved, Ms. Ewalt said. Others did not meet the criteria because no substantive solutions were provided.

The intent of the virtual uniform board is for Airmen to identify a problem and suggest an improvement, Ms. Ewalt said.

"Unlike an open forum board, it's an avenue to voice an input and recommend a solution to resolve the issue," Ms. Ewalt said. "It is an opportunity for everyone wearing the uniform to bring well thought out and substantive issues -- along with solid recommendations to resolve those issues -- to the attention of Air Force senior leadership."

No one knows better than Airmen serving today what uniform changes are needed, General Newton said.

"We heard the feedback from the field and will continue to do so," General Newton said.

Airmen can provide uniform recommendations by going to the Air Force IDEA Program Web site at https://ipds.csd.disa.mil/IPDS/landing_page, Ms. Ewalt said. Airmen can access uniform information at the Air Force Portal, www.my.af.mil and typing in "uniform" in the search box in the page's upper right-hand corner.

The heritage coat wear test will continue until its scheduled Oct. 31 completion date. Air Force experts will then analyze wear test results and provide General Schwartz a comprehensive package on which to base his decision next year. There are 240 Airmen currently participating in wear tests at Maxwell AFB, Ala.; San Antonio; the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the Pentagon, Ms. Ewalt said.