20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., Jan. 21, 2015 – Mannequins wearing different shades of green and blue, each festooned with medals and ribbons, will greet you if you visit the deputy commander’s office in the 20th Maintenance Group building here.
A Longtime Hobby
For most of his life, Air Force Lt. Col. Kyle Clement 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," he said. "When I was a teenager, I just happened to collect bits and pieces of Air Force uniforms. It just always caught my eye."
Since enlisting in the Air Force in 1989 and earning his commission in 1994, Clement said, he has pieced his collection together from across the United States. "The majority of it came from thrift stores," he added. "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."
Passion Goes Beyond the Fabric
Though his collection of complete uniforms has grown to more than 15, his passion for collecting is not all about the pieces of fabric, Clement said.
"Every one of these uniforms belonged to an airman, and I think that is key," he explained. "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."
Though he bought his first vintage uniform as a young captain, Clement said, his favorite uniform -- known as "pinks and greens," the Army Air Corps uniform from World War II -- connects him to an earlier time in his life. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1994 wearing a similar uniform, he said, and the uniform reminds him of his college years and the opportunity that led to his commission.
Since college, Clement said, he has spent time reading to ensure he displays all of his uniforms, ribbons, medals and hats accurately.
"Lieutenant Colonel Clement's collection is brilliant," said Air Force 2nd Lt. Cameron Schmitt, the group’s 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."
In addition to continuing to collect vintage uniforms, Clement said, he hopes to become an ROTC instructor after he retires from the Air Force and he plans to display them in his classroom.
"My intent is for these uniforms to never come home with me," he 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."
Clement’s passion for uniforms has been a lifelong journey rooted in Air Force history, Schmitt said.
"He is helping preserve our heritage through his collection, and that is crucial to the development of airmen and officers alike," he added.