Army Combat Uniform Getting Mixed Reviews

Noah Shachtman has an interesting discussion about the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), which has been rolled out over the last couple of years and will fully replace the old Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and Desert Combat Uniforms (DCU) by the end of the year. It seems many soldiers are complaining about the new unies, arguing that the one-color-fits-all package makes it “stick out like a sore thumb wherever there’s even a bit of vegetation.”

I doubt there has been a uniform change in Army history that has been universally praised. There was plenty of bitching when the jungle fatigues were replaced by the permapress greens and more when those were replaced by the BDU. And people still haven’t stopped talking about the beret controversy. Soldiers take a lot of pride in their uniforms and tend not to like change.

Personally, I’d prefer that the Army go to something cheap and easy to maintain, whether variant on the old green fatigues or something else, for garrison and keep the high tech cammies for the field. I’d also scrap the green polyester Class A and B uniform and bring back the Army Blues as the non-fatigue uniform.

Update: Consul-at-Arms informs me that the Army has taken my suggestion on the Army Blues. Somehow, I missed the 5 June 2006 announcement

Army service uniforms will be streamlined to one blue Army Service Uniform, the Army announced yesterday.

[…]

“We have all of these variations of uniforms — green, blue and white,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker. “It makes sense for us to go to one traditional uniform that is really sharp and high quality and which Soldiers will be very proud to wear. And that’s what we’ve done by adopting this blue Army Service Uniform that reflects simplicity, quality, utility and tradition.”

[…]

Introduction in the Army Military Clothing Sales Stores should begin in fourth quarter of fiscal year 2007. Introduction in the Clothing Bag should begin first quarter 2009. The Mandatory Possession Date is expected to be fourth quarter fiscal year 2011. A wear-out date for the Army Green Class A and White dress uniforms will be determined at a later date.

[…]

Army Service Uniform Phases Out Many Uniforms Photo • In utility, the blue Army Service Uniform provides a basic set of components that allow Soldiers to dress from the lowest end to the highest end of service uniforms with little variation required.

• In simplicity, the blue Army Service Uniform eliminates the need for numerous sets of green Class A uniforms, service blue uniforms and, for some, Army white mess uniforms (and tunics, for women). Streamlining various service uniforms into one Army Service Uniform reduces the burden on Soldiers in the same manner that the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) did for the field utility uniform.

• In quality, the blue Army Service Uniform is made of a durable material that is suitable for daily use without special care.

I’ve been calling for this move for years now and apparently there was a groundswell, with “85-90 percent” of soldiers wanting the blues as the dominant uniform. As I have often noted, I wore my blues more often than my green service uniform (excepting my stint as an ROTC recruiter before shipping off to the Basic Course), wearing the latter only for inspections and my DA photo.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Actually, the Army Green uniforms (along with the Army White uniform) are on their way out already, to be replaced with a modified Army Blue uniform called the “Army Service Uniform” or ASU.

    Personally, while the DCU and BDU versions weren’t perfect, they could have been improved rather than scrapped for the ACU pattern which seems too much of a compromise; neither green enough for temperate and tropics nor khaki/sand enough for most Middle East environments.

    (Disclaimer: During the period of my military service, I have worn fatigues, several generations of BDUs and DCUs. Plus Army Blue, Army Blue Mess and various VTCC cadet uniforms.)

    Cheers!

  2. legion says:

    Yeah, the AF is about to debut its own new outfits too. Actually, they were supposed to be out long ago – the Af’s efforts (I believe) started right after the Marines’ re-did theirs, and before the Army started their efforts. But the AF’s first stab sucked so horridly & got such loud push-back from all levels, that they had to go back to the drawing board. I hope they’ve had the sense to learn lessons from the Army & Marines on this one…

    And no offense to the Army (’cause the AF is no fashion plate, I know), but every time I see someone walking around in the new fatigues, the first thought in my head is “hey, that guy’s wearing pajamas”.

  3. Boyd says:

    This must be the “new uniform” season, since the Navy recently announced new khaki/black service uniforms for E-6 and below, as well as the new E-1 to O-10 working uniform, which are following the digital cammie fatigue pattern of the other services.

    It seems like there’s at least one more change in the works for the Navy, too, but being so long retired from the Navy, I don’t keep up with all the changes very well.

  4. Thanks for the mention. I’ve linked to you here.

    As noted in my post, the announcement you’ve quoted includes an error that was made at the time.

    The Army Service Uniform doesn’t eliminate the Army White Mess uniform but rather the Army White Service and Army White Dress uniforms.

  5. LJD says:

    Don’t forget that aside from looking cool, there is historic significance to the Army Blue uniform.

    On the ACU, the color is not all that sucks. Complaints from soldiers include velcro closures, and much less durability than the BDU.

    On the positive, not having to spit polish boots, or press a uniform that says “DO NOT IRON” right on the tag.

  6. Oh yeah, Blues just look better as well as being the traditional color for the Army uniform since Revolutionary times.

    Anything but that gawdawful polyester green leisure suit they foisted on us.

  7. Wayne says:

    I couldn’t care less about the dress uniforms as long as it look halfway decent.

    I’m am concern about the battle dress uniforms. We should use whatever works best in the field. I doubt trying to get one that works in all environments is a good idea since it will most likely in up being one that doesn’t work well at all. For most in Army, it doesn’t matter since they don’t spend much time in the field but the field operations should be the only concern when it comes to the design. Unfortunately, most of the decisions are made by REMF and some of them are more concern about appearance then anything else.

  8. LJD says:

    Wayne

    Consider this:

    Maternity BDU (Battle Dress Uniform)

    That one always cracked me up!

  9. Wayne says:

    LJD
    That’s funny. I wouldn’t be against coming out with a work uniform that can be use for personnel that have little chance of not needing the BDU and is more functional then the class Bs. However, I don’t see that happening because of the Army’s desire for uniformity and not wanting to upset someone for being left out or whatever.

  10. Personally, I’d prefer that the Army go to something cheap and easy to maintain, whether variant on the old green fatigues or something else, for garrison and keep the high tech cammies for the field.

    I have to weigh in on the basis of “train as you fight.” Let’s wear the same/similar uniform in garrison (with common-sense modifications as needed) as in the field. With Service and Dress uniform variants of the old Army Blue uniforms worn in hindquarters jobs (like the Pentagon) and for ceremonials and such.

  11. James Joyner says:

    C-A-A: I have to weigh in on the basis of “train as you fight.”

    But you’re not training in garrison in any meaningful sense of the word. It’s motor pool duty, admin stuff, taking classes, and whatnot. Wearing the ACUs doing that stuff is no big deal, really, but it’s a very expensive uniform and it seems silly to wear it out and cause it to fade with repeated laundering when you’re not in a tactical environment.

  12. IIRC, the ACU isn’t that much more costly than the BDUs.

    Sure, there’s a lot of “ash and trash” missions that don’t involve strictly tactical training, but is that enough to justify fielding a complete uniform issue?

    Today’s Army is very much a combat experienced Army and the longer the fight goes on in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, the more the units’ leadership will continue to demand and re-emphasis realistic tactical training back in “garrison.”