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Air Force woodland-pattern uniform lifespan worn out

RENO -- Issued since 1981, the woodland-pattern Battle Dress Uniform was designed to be the uniform worn by the United States' military during the seemingly inevitable conflict in eastern Europe in the midst of the Cold War.

But international relations eventually thawed and now the signature uniform of the era is, just like Cold War tension, fading into the past. October 31 marks the final day U.S. Airmen can wear the iconic woodland pattern.

Starting Nov. 1, the Airman Battle Uniform is the lone authorized Air Force duty uniform. (Airmen in Afghanistan may also wear the Army's multicam uniform on certain missions.) The U.S. Army has not worn its woodland-pattern uniform since 2008.

Some Airmen harbor nostalgic feelings about BDUs, especially those who've worn the uniform for the majority of their careers.

Master Sgt. Sam Macaluso of the Nevada Air Guard's 152nd Airlift Wing remembers the day BDUs were first issued.

"I joined the Air Force in 1970 and we wore the tan uniforms nicknamed 'pickle suits,'" Macaluso said. "When we received the BDUs, it took some getting used to."

Macaluso said the BDU made sense to him as all of the military branches adopted the uniform at once.

"Fiscally, it really made a lot of sense to me," he said. "Everyone had the same uniform except for the service-unique embroidery for names and services."

In retrospect, the BDU wasn't a perfect uniform. One flaw was the fact the uniform was designed to be dry-cleaned.

"We would throw it in the washer once in a while," Macaluso said. "But you could tell when a uniform was cleaned in a washing machine. I just wasn't very sharp-looking."

A sharp look was what made the BDUs popular with Airmen, according to Macaluso.

"The uniforms featured solid, good-looking creases that looked great with well-shined boots," he said. "We'd often spend our entire guard duty at night getting the perfect shine on those boots."

Macaluso said the current Airman Battle Dress uniform does feature improvements over the BDU.

"It's nice to have boots you don't need to shine and a uniform you don't need to press constantly," he said. "A big benefit is the ABU gives Airmen at schools more time to study. Discipline and standards are important, but I believe Airmen have a lot more than their uniforms to focus on these days."

With the end of the BDU era in the Air Force, the final U.S. military members to don the woodland-pattern uniform are the Sailors who will wear BDUs at select locations until a Navy-specific woodland camouflage uniform becomes available.