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Wearing the ABU uniform

As always: CAPR 39-1, Civil Air Patrol Uniform Regulation, and the ABU uniform is covered in para 5.1.  There is a lot there, so feel free to whip out the book and read along (you should always feel free to do this). I won't repeat the regulation, just provide some high points and gotchas, especially if you’re new to USAF uniforms.


CAPR 39-1, para gives some overarching guidance for the wear of the USAF-style uniform: “CAP’s USAF-style uniform policies will adhere to USAF standards found in the appropriate USAF instructions. Differences from USAF standards will be only those differences required to meet unique CAP requirements and allowed by USAF-approved exceptions. CAP honors our special relationship with the USAF through closely adhering to the policies set for the USAF’s uniform.”


Keeping that in mind, remember that wear of the USAF-style uniform has several unique requirements. The most obvious of these are USAF-style grooming standards (CAPR 39-1, Attachment 3) and the CAP Weight Standards for wear of the USAF-style uniforms (Attachment 2).  There are other things about wearing military uniforms that are not obvious but are somewhat customary (and second nature to anybody who has worn one regularly). Things like not "mixing and matching" civilian and military wear or always keeping things button, snapped and zipped, etc. Read on!



First, ABUs come in several different flavors. MILSPEC ABU comes in two fabric weights: a slightly heavier “temperate” weight, and then the lighter weight “rip-stop” fabric. The Vanguard-produced ABU is available only in the rip-stop fabric. Use caution when selecting your top, bottom, and hat: the different weights and fabric types can look different, and manufacturers have slightly different colorfastness. Depending on the age of the uniform parts, the differences may be VERY obvious. As a general rule, try not to mix the temperate uniform with the lightweight uniform.

Next, uniform care. From years of wearing CAP uniforms, wash your uniform in cold water and hang it to dry if you can. This cuts down a lot of the wear and tear on uniforms and can help them last for years.  This is especially important with your sewn-on insignia (more on insignia in a later installment, too!).

A note on pressing and starching:
When the ABU uniform was originally introduced, the heavy-duty “parade ground” starching and pressing of the old BDU uniform was specifically disallowed by the Air Force. CAP has followed suit. This uniform was originally intended as a combat uniform, and in our case is worn as a work/utility uniform. Certainly, touch up your uniform with an iron, but pressing and starching is a thing of the past. Your uniform should be clean, neat, and tidy, but just because you don’t starch your uniform anymore doesn’t mean it should look like it just came out of your duffel bag, either.


From head to toe:

Headgear: The ABU cap is the only authorized headgear for the ABU uniform (apart from specialized headgear worn at activities like summer encampment). The ABU cap is worn evenly on the head, with no hair protruding from the front under the brim. Not on the back of your head or cocked at a funny angle.

Much like the uniform itself, there is no need to block the living daylights out of your ABU cap. I see cadets with a cardboard oval in the crown of the hat to keep it blocked. See above about parade ground uniforms vs work/utility uniforms. If you can’t take your hat off your head and stick it in your cargo pocket when indoors, there’s a problem.  

(an aside on headgear: If you’re not accustomed to it, in the USAF-style uniforms headgear is worn outdoors, and removed indoors. You will get funny looks from cadets if you wear your hat indoors, or similarly if you’re outdoors and not wearing a cap unless you’re in a no-hat area like an active flight line). 


T-shirt: The authorized shirt is a tan/sand-colored t-shirt. You can find the mil-spec shirts online. T-shirts can have insignia of some sort on them (ie. encampment shirts, etc) but that insignia or graphic can’t be visible at the neck when wearing the ABU shirt, and of course, anything on the shirt should be appropriate. Watch out: the current t-shirts worn with the military’s OCP uniform are more brown than “sand.” Be sure you get the right ones.

Insignia: This will be covered later, but all insignia on ABUs is the “silver on dark blue,” not the white on ultramarine. Don’t mix & match insignia types! (caveat: military insignia such as aviation badges may be worn in their original subdued color on the ABU. However, don’t mix the fabric camo patterns such as OCP or ACU with the ABU. It just looks weird. Plus, you can find military badges in silver on dark blue.)  


Pockets: Yes, there are 200 buttons on ABUs (OK, that's an exaggeration. Its closer to 150). Pockets should be buttoned when the uniform is worn. If you see a cadet staring at your leg, he or she is probably looking at your unbuttoned cargo pocket. Trust me. Oh, and one other note about pockets: customarily we don’t stand around with our hands in our pockets.

Boot blousing: This is a fun topic. If you’re not used to blousing your trousers, this can be a little weird at first. You can tuck the trousers into the tops of the boots, or use something like blousing bands. Either way, per the reg: “[...] the trouser must be evenly bloused (gathered in and draped loosely) over the top of the combat boot and must present a bloused appearance.”   Here’s an example YouTube video. There are definitely others. Find a way that works for you. But remember



Socks: Speaking of blousing your trousers, per the regulation you should wear black socks. Not white. Black. 


Boots. CAPR 39-1, Para 6.4.3. The regulation doesn’t go into super detail on boots. These can take on many forms and configurations but know that there is a difference between a “fashion” combat boot and a mil-spec combat boot.

What you’re looking for is 8-10” tall black leather boots, lace-up with black eyelets, that you can polish. Tactical boots, paratrooper boots, jungle boots, or similar. Watch out for the really low “secret sneaker”-type tac boots. They are too short!


Your boots should be clean, free of dirt, well-shined and not scuffed. That's about it. One last item, less important right at this moment as spring progresses, is outerwear. This is covered in Chapter 6 of the regulation, specifically para 6.1.9. Goretex parka or the green fleece. Definitely not your Patriots jacket (see again the prohibition on mixing military and civilian wear).





These are just a few of the pointers to mastering the ABU uniform and pointing out some of the common “gotchas”. Remember, the authoritative source of info on uniform wear is CAP Regulation 39-1, Civil Air Patrol Uniform Regulation. If you have more questions, your experts in the squadron should be your Personnel Officer or your Commander.

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