Disclaimer: I do not own the contents of this AFI, nor the images that were copied from it. This is an educational post.
Finding the AFI
All guidelines for the wear of Air Force uniforms can be found in Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903. This is probably the most well-known and referenced AFI in the operational Air Force, so you will need to know how to navigate it. Not only do you need to know how to wear the uniform properly as an officer, you need to know the rules so you can enforce them with your subordinates. The point of this post is to be a starting point for non-priors before you learn to dive deep into the actual regulation.
All Air Force regulations and forms can be found at the Air Force e-Publishing site. In most cases if it isn’t on this site, it isn’t official. The only caveat is that it only contains Wing-level regulations and above, Squadron and Group regulations will be maintained by the respective Plans and Programs, DOV, or equivalent offices. DoD regulations are also found at a different site.
From the home page, search “36-2903” on the right.
Click AFI 36-2903, Dress and Appearance of Air Force Personnel
When you open an AFI, take note of the latest date. Although this AFI was published in 2011, it has been amended several times over the year, the latest date of 9 February 2017.
ABU guidelines are currently in Chapter 5.
Chapter 5: ABU Blouse
Here are some highlights from Chapter 5 regarding the ABU blouse.
- 184.108.40.206. (Truncated) Officer Rank Insignia (see Attachment 2). Officers will wear subdued metal or cloth rank on the collar. The long end of the Lieutenant and Captain bars will be centered 1 inch from the bottom of the collar.
- 220.127.116.11. Nametapes. Nametapes will be an Air Force digitized tiger print background
with dark blue block lettering. The nametapes will be worn immediately above the upper ABU coat pockets. Cut off or fold tapes to match pocket width. The “U.S. AIR
FORCE” nametape will be worn above the upper ABU pocket on the wearer’s left. The last name nametape will be worn above the upper ABU pocket on the wearer’s right.
- 18.104.22.168. (Truncated) Badges and Graduate Patches. The total number of badges and graduate patches worn will not exceed four. Badges will have a solid background, and will have the edges folded and sewn down with no more than ¼ inch space between embroidered design and badge edge. With the exception of tabs worn on the crest of the upper sleeve (i.e. Army Ranger tab) badges will have squared edges.
- 22.214.171.124.1. Chaplain, Aeronautical, Space, Cyberspace, Missile Operations,
Occupational and Qualification Badges and Graduate Patches.
- No more than a combined total of three chaplain, aeronautical, space, cyberspace, missile operations, occupational, or qualification badges and/or graduate patches will be worn on the wearer‘s left.
- If worn, ABU cloth badges will be worn. Airmen may wear the badges
of other military services while permanently assigned to units that perform duties with another military service. Airmen may also continue to wear earned, permanently awarded Air Force and other services’ qualification badges that meet the criteria in paragraph 10.5, regardless of duty assignment.
- Wear only regular size embroidered cloth badges or specialty insignia. Metal pin-on type qualification badges are not authorized for wear on the ABU.
- Chaplain, aeronautical, space, cyberspace and missile operations badges are mandatory and, except for the missile operations badge, will always be worn in the highest position.
- When more than one aeronautical, space, cyberspace or missile operations badge is authorized, the badge representing the current position will be worn and the second and subsequent aeronautical, space, cyberspace or missile operations badges become optional.
- All other occupational and qualification badges and patches are optional.
- If a chaplain badge is worn in conjunction with aeronautical, space or cyberspace badge, then the chaplain‘s badge will be in the highest position. Aeronautical, space, cyberspace and missile operations badges are equal in precedence.
- When awarded the aeronautical, space and cyberspace badges, wear the badge that reflects current job or billet in the highest position.
- Parachutist wings are optional; however, when worn they will be placed
above an occupational badge or below a chaplain, aeronautical, space or cyberspace badge.
- All occupational badges worn will be the same size; regular.
- Aeronautical, space and cyberspace badges may be a different size than an occupational badge; however, multiple aeronautical, space and cyberspace badges will be the same size.
- The first badge will be centered ½ inch above the ―U.S. AIR FORCE nametape.
- The second badge will be centered ½ inch above the first badge. Third and/or fourth qualification badges may be worn on the right pocket or above the nametape (as appropriate).
- The Weapons Instructor Course Graduate Patch (graduate or instructor)
and/or USAF Test Pilot School Patch (graduate or instructor) may only be worn on the left shoulder of flight suit, or on the left breast pocket of ABUs.
Here are some pictures from the AFI of the men’s and women’s ABU. Really all you have to worry about is U.S. Air Force and the name tape. Cadet rank is pinned on similar to how this AFI states to put Lieutenant bars, but go by whatever the OTSMAN says. Non-priors don’t need to worry about other badges or graduate patches.
Chapter 5: ABU Trousers
5.1.4. (Truncated) Trousers. Trousers will be 50% nylon and 50% cotton, with button fastenings and an Air Force digitized tiger stripe print. The trouser waistband will rest on the Airman’s waist. Pockets will be secured and items stowed in pockets will not be visible except pens stowed in the pen pocket. Tucking the ABU trouser into the boot is optional. Whether tucked in or bloused, the trouser must be evenly bloused (gathered in and draped loosely) over the top of the combat boot and must present a bloused appearance.
Really all you need to know about the trousers is to button your buttons, clip your strings, wear a belt, and they will sit higher on your hips than you may be used to.
Chapter 5: ABU (Other)
5.1.3. (Truncated) T-Shirt – Desert Sand colored (Tan). A desert sand (tan), short or long sleeved t-shirt will be worn under the ABU coat. Exception: Squadron commanders may authorize Airmen to wear a standardized color undershirt on Friday or during special events (only one color per squadron; individual purchase only, not unit-funded).
5.1.5. Belt. Desert Sand colored (Tan). A one piece rigger style, nylon, web belt (1 ¾ inch
wide) will be worn with ABU trousers (Exception: maternity trousers). Belt may extend
5.1.7. Headgear. Headgear will be worn outdoors at all times, unless in a designated “no
hat” area. For wear and description see applicable paragraphs 6.2.5, 6.2.7 through 126.96.36.199.
188.8.131.52. Socks (sage green). Sage green socks will be worn with the sage green or tan
boots. Plain white socks may be worn under the sage green socks as long as the white
socks are not visible.
6.4.3. (Truncated) Footwear (males/females) Combat boots. Will be worn with the Airman battle uniform, or the flight duty uniform. Laces will either be tied and tucked in the boot or tied and wrapped around the boot. No ―bowtie boot laces. Logos will be the same color as the boot.
184.108.40.206. (Truncated) Sage Green Boots. Will be worn with the Airman battle uniform, the battle dress uniform or the flight duty uniform. Boots will be sage green, lace up with plain rounded toe or rounded capped toe with or without a perforated seam. A zipper or elastic inserts may be worn; however, if worn, they will be without design. Green boots can be either with or without a safety toe.
I’ll probably add more specific advice for each of the uniform items, including what I do. In general I try to avoid AAFES because I have found over the years that I get better quality service and higher quality products from third parties.
You can buy an entire ABU set online, and it will arrive with name tapes and all badges you request. You can even request alterations such as pockets being sewn down, which many people do to improve the look of the uniform. It literally arrives ready to wear after you wash it and clip any strings.
The biggest unknown factor is what size you need, so that can be an issue. I wear 32×30 jeans and wear 32 XS ABU trousers, so for me it was pretty close. You can call them or use the guides on their site and they were pretty close for me. If something arrives and it doesn’t fit, as long as you don’t wash it you can send it back.