The latest off the army fashion runway: New Camoflage

The army announced this weekend that it was changing the current Universal Camouflage uniform (which apparently wasn’t).  It’s actually taking a retro direction, using a woodland pattern like the one I wore when I in the army.

These are ones I wore when I was in the army:

The army changed the uniform from the woodland camouflage I wore to a universal camouflage that was supposed to blend in everywhere, but didn’t.

Why is a new military uniform a big deal to the soldier?

For the individual soldier, like the lower enlisted, it’s what they wear every day.  Unlike on Star Trek: The Next Generation, they don’t get to choose a different type of uniform to wear.  Captain Picard would periodically turn up in a different uniform (supposedly because the actor got tired of wearing the same uniform all the time.  Hmm.  Must be nice.  We sure couldn’t do that!).

When I was in, we were initially issued four uniforms that consisted of:

  1. Woodland camouflage pants
  2. Woodland camouflage shirt
  3. Brown cotton t-shirt
  4. Green wool socks
  5. Woodland camouflage field jacket
  6. Woodland camouflage ball hat
  7. Leather boots

After that, we were given a yearly clothing allowance to replace items as they wore out, on in the case of socks, got eaten by the sock monster in the washing machine.  The brown t-shirts tended to get stretched out, and the camouflage uniform parts got threadbare from so much use.  They were all worn at least five days a week, and during Desert Storm, seven days a week.

The problem with #1 and #2 was that if you tore the knee of the pants, you had to replace the entire set, not just the pants.  The washing of the uniform caused it to fade, so you couldn’t wear a faded shirt and new, darker pants.  Everything had to match.

So it can get expensive for the soldier.  But at the same time, it’s something that was worn on a regular basis, so if something didn’t work right, it was a frustrating experience — and only a daily basis.  That was the case with the black beret.

When the military uniform doesn’t work

In 2000, right before I got out, General Shinseki decided to change the ball hat to a black beret.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s the same guy who’s in charge in the Veteran’s Administration now.

Most of the soldiers hated the beret because it wasn’t very practical.  The ball cap was easy to put on, and when you took it off, you could fold it in thirds and stick it in your cargo pocket.  It also was made of the same material as the rest of the uniform, so it could be thrown in the washing machine.

The beret, though, was wool and had a hard band around the rim.  It was hard to put on and get positioned right, and it didn’t really work well being stuffed in a pocket.  Then there’s pesky problem about it needing dry cleaning.  Do you know hot and sweaty a hat can get?

It was like senior officers got all excited about making changes and forgot that people actually had to wear it in environments where it was impractical.

So why is a uniform change important to the leadership?

Changes to the uniform usually happen when the very senior leaders want to make their mark on the military.  A uniform change is a very simple, but very visible change because everyone can see it.

Unfortunately, the senior leaders usually make the change right before they retire, so they can have the glory of the change, but not deal with the problems the change causes.  I almost think this is a requirement for the officers to do — both my company commander and battalion commander volunteered my unit for extra duties in Desert Storm right before they changed command!

Sometimes it’s easy to fix something that isn’t broken and ending up breaking it instead.