Optical brightners make ABUs dangerously easy to see

  • Published
Laundry instructions for the Airman Battle Uniform specify not using any laundry detergents that contain "optical brighteners." Optical Brighteners make the ABU more detectable by night vision equipment and make the ABU more visible in a low-light environment of any kind, by reflecting more of any available light, according to a talking paper posted on the Air Force Uniform and Recognition Programs page on the Air Force Portal.

Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb the ultraviolet and violet region of colors in a fabric. They "trick" the eye into seeing a brighter shade and reflect more light. The Near Infrared, or nIR, capability of the ABU is degraded when washed with optical brighteners.

Most commercial detergents contain optical brighteners. There is no way to tell whether a product has optical brighteners alone by the labeling. Impact of optical brighteners is permanent; it cannot be "washed out." 

The Air Force Uniform and Recognition Programs page states the following detergents are optical brightener free and safe for use with the ABU:
- Cheer (liquid and powder)
- Cheer Free
- Exchange Select Cold Water Wash
- All Detergent Free Clear
- Country Save Liquid Detergent
- Allens Laundry detergent (power and liquid)
- Bi-O-Kleen Laundry Detergent (powder and liquid)
- Charlie's Soap (powder and liquid)
- ECOS Free and Clear Laundry Detergent
- Mountain Green Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Nature Clean (liquid and powder)
- Oxy-Prime Powder
- Planet Ultra (liquid and powder)
- Seventh Generation Laundry detergents
- Sportwash
- Sun and Earth Liquid
- Surf Powder (not Surf Liquid)
- Washeze
- Woolite, original and dark


Q 1: Can we wear the green ABU boot with all Air Force utility uniforms? If so, when?
A 1: Yes, you can wear the green ABU boot with all Air Force utility uniforms now. They are available for personal purchase (not issue or unit funded purchase) in AAFES, Military Clothing Sales Stores. The official authority, via 8106 message, will be forthcoming in late August, early September. The Safe for Flying green boot is currently being tested. We expect to see these on the shelves in Fall 2007.

Q 2: Why does it appear that there are shade differences with some sets of ABUs?
A 2: Some ABUs issued or purchased through AAFES, do appear to have some shade variances, but they are all within the shade tolerance specifications set by the Air Force. This is a normal development process that happens when a new uniform with a new textile is used. We anticipate that this will work itself out as the vendors formalize the process and produce more uniforms. The different shades variances are authorized.

Q 3: When is the mandatory wear date for the ABU?
A 3: October2011 (FY12).

Q 4: Will we wear patches (e.g. Wing or Squadron) on the ABU?
A 4: No patches or unit emblems will be worn on the ABU. Mandatory badges (Aeronautical, Chaplain), and mandatory duty shields for Force Protection and Fire Protection are required. No other duty badges will be authorized or worn. Occupational badges are optional, but encouraged.

Q 5: Will we still be able to wear baseball hats?
A 5: Organizational baseball hats are not authorized with the ABU. Only the ABU hat (looks like the current BDU style with the ABU print) and currently authorized berets will still be allowed.

Q 6: Can I wear sister services badges on the ABU?
A 6: No.

Q 7: Can I wear my black combat boots?
A 7: Black boots will not be authorized at anytime with the ABU. Tan boots can be used until the green boots become readily available. A phase out date will be announced at a later date.

Q 8: Will other Air Force-issued items change to match the pattern andlor color of the ABU?
A 8: Yes, some items (hat, socks, & T-shirts) will be introduced concurrently w/ the ABU. As mentioned above (Q.5), tan boots are authorized until the green suede boots are available.

Q 9: Why didn't we use Velcro® for the attachments to the ABU?
A 9: The Research and Development branch of the Air Force Clothing Office at Wright-Patterson AFB looked into using Velcro®, since it appears to be easier and less expensive for our Airmen. However, research indicates otherwise and the majority of the Airmen in the test did not want Velcro® (see Q&A 42 for a more detailed explanation).

Q 10: Will the jacket commonly known as the Gortex® jacket be available?
A 10: Yes, AAFES will be selling the new Air Force All Purpose Environmental Camouflage Parka.

Q 11: Can I mix and match patterns with my ABUs (i.e. wear any of my over garments with the ABU until I get a new ABU jacket)?
A 11: No, you cannot mix and match patterns (BDU, DCU and ABU). The only exception to this policy is field items, i.e., body armor, helmet cover, MOLLEs and canteen covers, which will be available primarily in the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), but will also continue to be available in DCU, and solid tan or OD green shades as well, which are all authorized for wear -- they can be worn with the ABU at home station (as well as in the AOR) as mission requires. This does NOT apply to the DCU Gortex® jackets, which can be worn with the ABU in the AOR ONLY.

Q 12: Will the clothing allowance be increased since the cost of the uniform will go up?
A 12: Yes, the clothing allowance will reflect the increase effective October 2007 (FY 08). If you choose to purchase the ABU before your anniversary date in FY08, you will absorb the cost differences until you receive your clothing allowance. If you choose to buy a set early, you must have an entire set of ABUs and accessories, i.e. tan boots, belt, hat, green socks, tan t-shirt, etc.

Q 13: Will officers be given a clothing allowance to cover initial costs?
A 13: Officers only receive an initial allowance upon commissioning.

Q 14: How many uniforms will be issued at basic training?
A 14: The Basis of Issue for the ABU will be the same as the BDU. Four ABUs will be issued to new Airmen in Basic Military Training in October 2007. These replace the four sets of BDUs currently issued in the initial issue clothing bag.

Q 15: I understand that the expected life expectancy of the typical ABU is only 12 months. That doesn't seem very durable for a uniform that is designed to be used in combat environments. Will the enlisted clothing allowance be updated annually to allow Airmen to purchase four sets every year?
A 15: The life expectancy is based on the current BDU for the enlisted clothing allowance. Our tests indicate that, with proper care and laundering, there will be a much longer life than one year and once there is sufficient data to support that, the life expectancy will be adjusted.

Q 16: Does the ABU require dry cleaning and/or pressing?
A 16: The ABU is literally a wash and wear item. In fact, starching and hot pressing of ABU5 is prohibited. Also, one should not dry clean the ABU. Dry cleaning, starching and hot pressing will deteriorate the fiber in the uniform and shorten the wear life.

Q 17: What are the washing and care requirements for the ABU?
A 17: In order to maximize service life and maintain optimum performance, the following instructions should be followed when caring for the ABU: Wash in warm water with detergent containing no optical brighteners or bleach. Tumble dry at low heat. The use of starch, sizing and any process that involves dry-cleaning or steam press will adversely affect the treatments and durability of the uniform and is not authorized.

Q 18: How could starch damage the uniform?
A 18: Starching of the ABU is prohibited. Starching uniforms makes the uniform material more brittle and subsequently reduces the wear life. The permanent press and nIR (near Infrared) features of this uniform will be damaged by starching, commercial pressing and additives in the washing process. The permanent press feature will allow Airmen to look sharp and wear the ABU without incurring the costs of commercial dry cleaning or pressing.

Q 19: I hear the ABU is a better fit. Can you explain?
A 19: Yes, it is a better fit for men and women. The ABU has 236 (118 trousers and 118 blouses) sizes that will accommodate both men and women, unlike the 57 sizes of the current BDU. The ABU sizes follow commercial clothing standards. The most common sizes will be available on AAFES shelves and the total 236 sizes will be available by order through AAFES. The green suede boots will come in women's sizes unlike the current black boot in the Air Force inventory, which does not.

Q 20: How much does an individual set of the ABU cost? What about accessories like the jacket, t-shirts, socks, etc.
A 20: The cost of one set of ABUs is $81.37 plus badges and rank. The following is a complete breakout of costs for the ABU and accessories: ABU Hat - $5.98; EAMen's Trouser - $41.96; PRMen's Coat - $39.41; EAWomen's Trouser - $41.96; PRWomen's Coat - $39.41; EASand T-shirt -$4.35; EAGreen Boot Socks -$2.30; PRSand Riggers Belt - $3.15; EADesert Tan Boots - $97.50; PRAF Green Boots -$100.55; PRAF APECS Parka - $173.25

Q 21: What does it look like?
A 21: Take a look here, or at it on the AF Uniform and Recognition Programs website on the Air Force Portal.

Q 22: When can I buy an ABU?
A 22: The ABU will be issued to our airmen deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait AEF 9/10 (September through November 2007) and then to our Basic Military Trainees beginning in October 2007. Depending on availability, the ABU will begin to flow into some AAFES Military Clothing Sales Stores in late summer 2007.

Q 23: Who will pay for the ABU?
A 23: Initially the Air Force will fund: 1) Initial issue of ABUs to some deploying total force war fighters; 2) Battlefield Airmen career fields will be issued 4 sets of ABUs when deploying to specific locations as determined by senior leadership; 3) BMTs will be issued 4 sets of ABUs. All others will purchase ABUs individually as replacements are needed (using clothing allowance if authorized).

Q 24: Will the reserve component wear the ABU?
A 24: Yes, the Total Air Force will wear the ABU - Active, Reserve and National Guard.

Q 25: If I am in the Guard or Reserves, how do I get my new ABU?
A 25: ABU5 will be issued to the Guard and Reserve in the same manner in which they currently acquire their uniform. However, if you fall into a category of not being issued clothing, then you can purchase them the same way you do now, e.g., go to nearest clothing store or online at www.aafes.com when sufficient supplies are available.

Q 26. Why is the ABU available to a movie production company, before it's available to AF personnel?
A 26: Iron Man, based on the Marvel comic book character, is scheduled to release in 2008. A lead character in the storyline portrays an AF officer. The production company was allowed to purchase an extremely small quantity of the ABU fabric to make the few sets of ABUs needed in the movie for early 2006 filming. The company is handling their own tailoring of the ABU for the few uniforms they need. There is absolutely no impact to AF production or distribution.

Q 27: Why did you borrow the pattern from the Army and Marines?
A 27: We did not borrow the pattern. The Air Force created it's own pattern with the inspiration from the Vietnam-era tiger stripe. The AF did use colors based on the Army's new ACU with the addition of slate blue.

Q 28: Why a new uniform now?
A 28: We developed our own pattern that is compatible with the patterns of the other services. The services have recognized the need to have a uniform better suited to the environment in which we operate, that is easy to care for and that fits better. The ABU accomplishes that.

Q 29: What happens if I need a new uniform and I can't find a BDU in my size and the ABU isn't available in my AAFES yet?
A 29: Speak with a Military Clothing Sales Stores sales associate and they can inquire about having your BDU size shipped from another MOSS store.

Q 30: What is the stop-wear date for the people in the "ABU test uniform"?
A 30: Airmen currently wearing test uniforms can continue to wear them as long as the uniforms are serviceable.

Q 31: Was the new ABU field-tested as it was developed?
A 31: The Air Force Uniform Board directed a combined initial fit and wear test in 2004 for the new utility uniform. The uniforms used in the follow-on Operational Utility Evaluation during 2005 were made from patterns that incorporated the best data available from the combined fit and wear test. We received both positive and negative feedback and incorporated changes to the uniform based on that feedback. As with any new item, ABU refinements will be made, based on continued feedback from the field.

Q 32: Why doesn't the Air Force just adopt the Army's ACU? Isn't it wasteful for the Air Force to develop, produce, and distribute a new uniform in today's constrained fiscal environment?
A 32: The goal for the ABU was to develop a distinctive AF uniform that is better fitting and easier and less expensive to maintain. These goals were developed in response to input from Airmen across the force. The Air Force Clothing Office created a matrix of all the suggestions and complaints sent to the AFUB for several years. The current BDU received the most complaints and suggestions. Because the BDU is an Army owned uniform, the AF could not make changes to it. When the Army decided it would discontinue the current BDU and DCU, they did not have any designs to share with the AF either. This provided a unique opportunity for the Air Force to take input from Airmen and develop a uniform that can meet the specific needs of the Air Force while retaining the flexibility to adapt to changes as they occur over time.

Q 33: The slanted cargo pockets on the blouse and trousers of the ACU are much more accessible than horizontal pockets. Why didn't the Air Force incorporate slanted pockets into the design of the ABU?
A 33: The senior leadership of AFSOC considered the use of slant pockets, but ultimately decided there was no advantage to them. In fact, we specifically sought and received input on pockets, which resulted in the lower arm and leg pockets on the latest version of the uniform.

Q 34: The Army designed a two-piece aviation variant of their ACU. Why isn't the Air Force designing a replacement flight suit based on the ABU?
A 34: For several reasons, Air Force senior leadership decided that it would be premature, at this time, to move forward with development of a two-piece flight suit. Many Air Force pilots must wear a one-piece flight suit due to ejection seat requirements. As a result, it is imperative to continue with some variant of a one-piece flight suit. The AF is studying the possibility of a two-piece suit for some flight specialties; however, there is currently insufficient data to warrant moving forward with development. From a technical perspective, the Nomex fabric currently being used in the ABDUs is very difficult to print on, which would cause long delays in procurement. The ABDU is also more expensive than the one-piece flight suit.

Q 35: The ABU is going to be issued to Airmen deploying in AEF 7 and 8. Will members in follow-on AEFs also be issued the ABU?
A 35: Members in follow-on AEFs will be issued ABUs and DCUs depending on location of deployment. Airmen not deploying will replace their BDUs with ABUs using their clothing allowance. The mandatory wear date is not until 2011 and the clothing allowance increase is effective October 2007.

Q 36: I'm in a Battlefield Airman Career field. Am I going to be required to wear the ABU or can I still wear the ACU?
A 36: Starting with AEF 7/8, Air Force personnel currently authorized to wear the Army's ACU will be issued ABUs when they deploy to the AOR and will no longer be authorized to wear the Army's uniform.

Q 37: Will special operations  forces be issued the ABU?
A 37: The SOF were among the first to test the ABU. Absolutely, they will wear the ABU. We are committed to continuous improvement with regard to the ABU. We plan to continually upgrade the ABU as we learn more about its effectiveness - we'll do this in spirals. We will incorporate new fabrics and new technology as appropriate. SOF forces will continue with their current ROE when deployed but are authorized to purchase ABU5 when available at their duty stations.

Q 38: Who is the contractor making the ABU?
A 38: The Defense Supply Center of Philadelphia is procuring uniforms through their normal supply chain. AAFES will then purchase their stock of the uniforms from DSCP.

Q 39: You mentioned that some general officers and command chief master sergeants began wearing the ABU this spring. Roughly how many folks are you talking about? A ballpark figure is OK. Is it safe to say they are general officers from bases around the U.S. and overseas?
A 39: We provided an opportunity to all general officers, Major Command commanders and Combatant Command commanders to order two sets of ABUs, approx 500 in total. They are at locations worldwide.

Q 40: If airmen are scheduled to deploy with AEF rotations 9 and 10, will they get ABUs or DCUs and on what date will they be able to obtain their new uniforms? Where will they be able to get them? If they have them, say, a month before they deploy, can they wear them to work or must they still wear the woodland BDUs?
A 40: This is a multi-part answer.
a) Airmen deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, will get ABU5. All others will get DCU5. These will be issued prior to departure to CST.
b) All gear will be issued from your home station. Your Unit Deployment Manager has specific information.
c) ABUs and DCUs are issued as deployment uniforms/gear and can not be worn until AOR deployment commences.
d) When the members return stateside can they wear their DCUs? No, current AFI 36-2903 policy remains in effect. No wear of DCUs outside of the AOR.
e) When the members return stateside can they wear their ABUs? Yes, if they are still serviceable -- however they must comply with AFI 36-2903 wear policy e.g. no mix and matching.
f) AAFES and DSCP are the only authorized sources of ABU items at this time. Nametapes, functional badges, chevrons, rank, hats and most importantly the uniform, itself bought from outside sources are UNAUTHORIZED. Items from outside sources may not be near Infra Red adjusted and again, are unauthorized.

Q 41: The fabric on the new ABU feels like it's a heavier weight than the winter version of the old BDU. If so, why is that the case considering the ABU will be used in a wide range of environmental conditions?
A 41: The fabric is the same weight as the temperate BDU, and the same weight as the MARPAT trousers; however, when it was tested for air permeability against a starched summer weight BDU, the ABU fabric performed better. Initially, the permanent press treatment can make the fabric feel a bit heavier, too.

Q 42: The length of the trousers on the new ABU appears to be about 12 inches too long. Was this a manufacturing error or is there another reason?
A 42: The trouser length was set after extensive fit and wear testing to allow blousing for someone whose legs were long, but their lower torso length was short. In the past, this person would have to buy a "long" trouser to get the needed length in the leg, but the trouser crotch would hang uncomfortably low on them.

Q 43: Can you elaborate on why buttons are better operationally than Velcro®on the ABU?
A 43: Our users surveyed and our test participants strongly prefer buttons to Hook and Loop Fasteners (commonly referred to by the trade name Velcro®) for the following reason: 1) Hook and Loop fasteners have a wear life and become unserviceable after a number of uses. 2) Sand and/or dirt sticks between the hooks and loops and makes it inoperable, so the fastener requires routine maintenance to keep it in good working order. 3) It is easier to replace a button than to sew on a new fastener 4) It often becomes attached to other articles of clothing, especially loosely-woven items. When one attempts to remove the fastener, even if they are separated slowly it can do harm to the other articles. 5) The tearing noise made by unfastening a hook and loop fastener can be loud at a time where stealth is wanted.

Q 44: It's not difficult to see that the horizontal pockets on the chest do not allow as easy access as slanted pockets. Why did the Air Force decide to go with horizontal pockets instead of slanted pockets?
A 44: A great deal of input was received from wear testers--consisting of many field testers--regarding pocket configurations, to include the possibility of slanting the pockets. Once senior leadership had reviewed--and thoroughly considered--all feedback and suggestions, a final decision was made: to leave the front outer pockets unslanted.

Q 45: The hidden pockets inside the ABU blouse don't seem very functional. You can't access them if you're wearing IBA and they make the uniform less breathable.
A 45: The interior pockets were requested by user representatives in the original design IPT and were popular with many of the wear test participants. Mission requirements as well as personal preferences vary tremendously. While not officially recommended or suggested, some personnel may chose to cut the interior pockets out of the garment, as long as it doesn't change the outer appearance of the uniform.

Q 46: Why didn't the Air Force just forgo the sleeve rank and provide upper sleeve pockets that would be more useful than hidden pockets and chest pockets when wearing individual body armor?
A 46: Collaborative discussion among senior leadership from all commands resulted in the decision to continue with the rank on the sleeve, rather than reconfigure to add more pockets.

Q 47: Will the new green boots be offered in safety toe option and if so, when? What will we do if the ABU5 are out but there isn't a matching safety boot available?
A 47: Yes, we plan to bring out the green boots in a safety toe option. The green safety toe boots will most likely be available around mid-2008. With ABUs being available for purchase through AAFES in late fall 2007, we have allowed desert tan boots to be worn with the ABU. This will ensure that personnel who have been issued the ABU for deployment will have boots to wear with the ABU. If this fall, when Airmen may begin to buy ABUs (through AAFES), unit resource advisors will have the option of procuring desert tan safety toe boots.

Q 48: Is the commanders insignia authorized with the ABU?
A 48: No, currently the commanders insignia is NOT authorized.

Q 49: I am being told that my ABUs are on backorder and I am about to deploy to Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan. Why is this and what does it mean for me?
A 49: It is true that there is a temporary shortage of ABUs (particularly for some of the late notice deployers). If your ABUs do not come in prior to your deployment, you may be given DCUs to take with you and your ABUs will be shipped to your deployed location as soon as possible. This is very short term and we will be back on track soon. 

Note to Suppliers: There will be no "Expedited Shipping" requests honored at this time. This is temporary and will likely only be for a few weeks (through the end of August 2007). Continue to place normal orders and they will continue to be shipped by the normal process. Contact your chain of command if you have any questions on this.