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Coveralls allow maintainers to get dirty in the line of duty

Airman First Class Josh Hegemann, an F-16 crew chief, installs an engine on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline wearing newly-issued coveralls, June 10. Airman Hegemann, along with numerous other maintainers, wears the Airman Battle Uniform to work and changes into coveralls to protect his uniform from oil, fuel, lubricant and other petroleum products. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Airman First Class Josh Hegemann, an F-16 crew chief, installs an engine on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline wearing newly-issued coveralls, June 10. Airman Hegemann, along with numerous other maintainers, wears the Airman Battle Uniform to work and changes into coveralls to protect his uniform from oil, fuel, lubricant and other petroleum products. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- While keeping F-16 Fighting Falcons mission ready, aircraft maintainers at the 162nd Fighter Wing can confidently get elbow-deep in grease without concern for ruining their uniforms thanks to new dark blue coveralls issued here recently.

In military culture where professional appearance is a must, servicemembers avoid stains on their uniforms whenever possible. To Guardsmen wearing the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) - a light gray, green, tan and blue tiger stripe pattern - aircraft maintenance areas are danger zones for black grease and fluid stains.

"These guys are in a lot of fluids; oil, fuels, lubricants and petroleum products. Those wear down the ABUs quite a bit," said Master Sgt. Ernie Hermosillo, an aircraft engine quality inspector and project manager for the new coveralls.

"We had a couple people transfer here from other units where coveralls were used and they were strong advocates for them due to their cost savings benefits," said Sergeant Hermosillo.

In late 2008, the wing purchased 750 coveralls at $25 a piece, and according to maintainers, they are proving to be excellent protection for their ABUs which cost about $200 from hat to boots.

"We found that they were the best solution to keep uniforms clean and save the money that would have been spent to replace ruined ABUs. Also, the black boots authorized with the coveralls stand up against stains better than the ABU's suede boots," said the sergeant.

"We began issuing them to our people late last year. We gave two sets to our full-time people and one set to our drill status Guardsmen, and we started with sections most likely to work around aircraft fluids because of their immediate need. So if you work in electronics, for example, you didn't get a pair."

The coveralls, which are ordered from a U.S. Navy stock number, are used in some form throughout all the service branches. Each unit establishes its own policy on their wear. The 162nd authorizes limited use on base through a wing supplement to Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and personal appearance of Air Force personnel.

They can only be worn in the maintenance perimeter which includes hangars, backshops and the flightline, and they don't bear the wearer's rank because they are not recognized by the 162nd as an official uniform.

"If we put stripes on them it almost becomes a uniform that you can wear outside the unit. We were trying to stay away from that. We want our people to understand that the ABU is their uniform while the coverall is just a utility working accessory to be used as a protective outer garment," said Hermosillo.

As maintainers go to other work centers on base they change into their official uniform to conduct business.

Wing maintainers are so pleased with the garments they plan to replace them every two-to-three years and will include funding in the 2011 budget.

"I like them a lot better because the ABUs get dirty a lot easier," said Airman First Class Josh Hegemann, an F-16 crew chief. "The more you wear them the more you appreciate them."