'First shirt' recycles OCPs for Bagram Airmen

  • Published
  • By Capt. Raymond Geoffroy
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Every U.S. Air Force first sergeant is responsible for making sure their Airmen's uniforms are in good order, but one first sergeant here has taken this charge a step further.

Master Sgt. Nicholas Kollett, the first sergeant for the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, developed and manages a base-wide program that provides Operation Enduring Freedom camouflage pattern uniforms to Airmen who have yet to receive the specialized outfits.

The uniform, commonly called the OCP, has become the iconic attire of coalition forces in Afghanistan for many reasons. According to officials, the uniforms are lightweight, flame retardant, and well-suited to blend with Afghanistan's terrain, which is why the U.S. Air Force this year made OCPs the official uniform of Airmen deployed to Afghanistan.

However, when the change took effect, the approximately 7,800 Airmen already in Afghanistan didn't have access to the uniforms. When Kollett, a native of Peabody, Mass., arrived at Bagram Airfield in April, he noted that the majority of 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group Airmen still wore airman battle uniforms.

"Many Airmen were in place when the mandatory OCP wear policy was implemented," Kollett said. "They were disappointed to not have the uniform that everyone else had. The ABU is a lot warmer than the OCP and isn't flame retardant."

Seeking a solution to this problem, Kollett set out looking for a way to acquire OCPs for Airmen. It wasn't long before he discovered a steady source of the uniforms.

"I found out that the Army was taking their old uniforms to be destroyed," Kollett said. "I saw this as ... an opportunity to put Airmen into safer and more comfortable uniforms."

Networking with the Army units responsible for clearing uniforms out of Bagram Airfield's amnesty bins, Kollett started collecting the used OCPs to give them new life.

"I originally received the uniforms and put them on a table in our work center for everyone to sort through," Kollett said. "For a while, we had a lot of uniforms sitting around. I then decided to put them on shelves and organized them by size to make it faster for Airmen to get the uniforms that they were looking for."

And with that, Bagram Airfield's "OCP Store" was born. To date, the store has reissued more than 1,000 OCP uniform sets, valued at more than $250,000, to Airmen here at no cost, providing comfort from arid temperatures and facilitating a safer working environment.

The program was well received by the Airmen, who were quick to express their appreciation for the unique service.

"It was a huge morale boost having (Kollett) help us get into OCP uniforms," said Staff Sgt. Dennis Arias, a munitions systems specialist with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. "It makes a big difference being in the correct and more comfortable uniforms."

"Master Sergeant Kollett has done incredible work for our team," said Lt. Col. Rudy Cardona, the 455th EAMXS commander. "He has directly impacted operations by providing more practical uniforms that are functional for this environment."

For Kollett, the greatest satisfaction comes from making Bagram Airfield Airmen's lives a little more conformable and safer.

"Taking care of Airmen is something that has always brought me a lot of joy," Kollett said. "I received many thanks from Airmen, but I didn't do this to receive thanks; I did it to take care of the Airmen."

Kollett will soon depart Afghanistan, but he can do so knowing he made a positive impact for his Airmen and all of Bagram Airfield.