JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
When the Air Force announced its transition from the Airman Battle Uniform to the Operational Camouflage Pattern two years ago, Senior Airman Louis Shackelford pondered what to do with his ABU accessories.
Shackelford, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron who also works at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle as an external relations project manager at the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, decided to blend the two worlds knowing that the warm olive-ribbed socks collecting dust in his drawer could be repurposed.
With the help of his wife, Nordia, who works as a social worker at Harborview Medical Center’s Max Clinic, Louis decided to start a clothing drive to collect ABU items (i.e. t-shirts, belts, socks, and boots) from his fellow Reserve Citizen Airmen and donate them to the clinic, whose mission is to address patients with complex medical and social needs.
“There is always a need for male clothing,” Shackelford said. “It tends to be in short supply, so my wife usually raids my closet.”
Knowing the need for supplies, his wife asked if he could organize a drive in his unit to collect belts, shirts, socks and boots, as the Air Force transitions to new uniforms.
Shackelford discussed the idea with his leadership and they agreed it was a worthwhile endeavor.
Colonel (Dr.) Bruce K. Neely, the 446th AMDS commander, said he was impressed by Shackelford’s clothing drive initiative and the opportunity to innovate the way we discard items as the Air Force transitions.
“This, to me, is an outstanding example of how our (Reserve) Citizen Airmen serve the country in their Air Force jobs, but also reach back and bring the Air Force back to the community,” Neely said in an email.
During the September Unit Training Assembly, he asked his squadron Reserve Citizen Airmen to donate clean, gently used civilian clothing and ABU items.
When Staff Sgt. Kayla Mills, an aerospace medical technician with the 446th AMDS, heard of Shackleford’s drive, she wrangled up her sand-colored T-shirts, olive-ribbed socks, and fleece hats. Before the clothing drive, she said she felt uneasy disposing her items.
“I didn’t want to just throw them away,” Mills said. “It is great that these perfectly good items can be used by those less-fortunate.”
Since the announcement of the drive, Shackelford has collected over 20 bags, amounting to more than 100 items including belts, t-shirts and sage-green boots.
“I have been blessed in many ways and I need to pay it forward to others,” Shackelford said. “It is important for us to remember our obligations. We ‘took an oath’ to serve our country and that service is important to me. I saw a need and I had to meet it; it is just something I had to do.”
The Air Force will fully transition to OCPs in April 2021.