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Living museum: Airman preserves AF uniforms

Lt. Col. Kyle Clement stands in front of his vintage U.S. military uniform collection Jan. 9, 2015 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.  Collecting for more than 20 years, Clement’s goal is to preserve Airman heritage by piecing together authentic uniforms dating back to 1914. Clement is the 20th Maintenance Group deputy commander.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jensen Stidham)

Lt. Col. Kyle Clement stands in front of his vintage U.S. military uniform collection Jan. 9, 2015 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Collecting for more than 20 years, Clement’s goal is to preserve Airman heritage by piecing together authentic uniforms dating back to 1914. Clement is the 20th Maintenance Group deputy commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jensen Stidham)

An Airman assigned to the 20th Maintenance Group, touches an original aircraft maintenance badge Jan. 9, 2015 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.  Lt. Col. Kyle Clement, the 20th Maintenance Group deputy commander purchased this badge as a teenager, starting his life-long passion for collecting Airman memorabilia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jensen Stidham)

An Airman assigned to the 20th Maintenance Group, touches an original aircraft maintenance badge Jan. 9, 2015 at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Lt. Col. Kyle Clement, the 20th Maintenance Group deputy commander purchased this badge as a teenager, starting his life-long passion for collecting Airman memorabilia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jensen Stidham)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Walking through the 20th Maintenance Group building, it would be appropriate to stop and gaze into the office of one senior leader there. Eyes would be greeted with several mannequins wearing different shades of green and blue, each decorated with metals and ribbons.

For most of his life, Lt. Col. Kyle Clement, the 20th MXG deputy commander, has been preserving Airman heritage by collecting vintage Army Air Corps and Air Force memorabilia, most notably uniforms and their decorations dating back to 1914.

"Everybody collects little things when they are growing up," Clement said. "When I was a teenager I just happened to collect bits and pieces of Air Force uniforms. It just always caught my eye."

Enlisting in the Air Force in 1989 and commissioning in 1994, Clement has pieced his collection together from across the United States.

"The majority of it came from thrift stores," Clement said. "As I travel, if I pass an antique store I'll pull over and check it out. It's amazing what you can find. Most stores don't even know what it is."

Though his collection of complete uniforms has grown to more than 15, his passion for collecting is not all about the pieces of fabric.

"Every one of these uniforms belonged to an Airman, and I think that is key," Clement said. "The history of why these uniforms were worn, who wore them, and how our uniform has changed over the years is incredible. The uniforms we wear today are just pieces of the uniforms that used to be worn."

Even though he purchased his first vintage uniform as a young captain, his favorite uniform known as "pinks and greens," the Army Air Corps uniform from WWII, connects him to an earlier time in his life.

In 1994, Clement graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, wearing a similar uniform to the pinks and greens, and says the uniform reminds him of his college years and the opportunity that lead to his commission.

Since his years after college, Clement has spent time reading his library of books to ensure all of his uniforms, ribbons, medals, and hats are displayed in an accurate way.

"Lt. Col. Clement's collection is brilliant," said 2nd Lt. Cameron Schmitt, the 20th MXG executive officer. "His love for history is incredible and it is such a great opportunity to work with someone who is willing to give a quick history lesson at a moment's notice."

Not only does Clement have a passion for collecting Air Force uniforms, but what he wants even more is to become a
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) teacher after he retires from service.

"My intent is for these uniforms to never come home with me," Clement said. "I plan to have them in my classroom one day and then donate them to the school, that way they can continue to be appreciated."

A living museum from World War I to present day, Clement's passion for uniforms has built a lifelong journey rooted in Air Force history.

"He is helping preserve our heritage through his collection and that is crucial to the development of Airmen and officers alike," Schmitt said.

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