View Full Version : New Uniforms: Army Succeeds, Air Force Fails

07-23-04, 07:09 AM

New Uniforms: Army Succeeds, Air Force Fails

By Paul Connors

The Marines did it and now the Army and Air Force are about to follow suit.

The Army is about to begin issuing its new battle dress uniform and hopes to have all of its soldiers – active, reserve and National Guard – re-equipped by the end of 2007. The Air Force, not quite so far along in the process, is still evaluating a proposed “tiger stripe” design, fabrics and features that officials believe will enhance the uniform’s performance, wear and convenience.

It is clear that the Army has come up with a successful new design, while the Air Force has not.

The Marine Corps has developed and issued two sets of BDUs for its personnel. One is a direct replacement for the current “woodland pattern” and the other is designed for use in desert environments. Both uniforms are based on “pixellated” patterns of colors, patterns that users of digital cameras have become familiar with when they have tried to enlarge photos one size too many. The Marine Corps also decided that both uniforms would truly be wash-and-wear and did away with the long-used black combat boot in favor of a no-shine boot.

The Army, painfully aware of the shortcomings in the now 20-year-old BDU design, seems to finally have done something right in the design of its new battle uniform. After being initially impressed with both the design and features of the Marines’ new BDU, the Army actually considered adopting it.

However, after some additional investigation, researchers found that the black colored areas of the Marine BDU were more likely to betray movement by the wearer and recommended that the color not be included. So for a change, the Army listened to good advice and incorporated it into its planning. Uniform designers also solicited input from actual users and requested recommendations for features that would serve soldiers better under field conditions. Below are some of the major features and improvements that have been included:

* Mandarin collar: this collar offers the advantage of being able to be worn up or down and it protects the neck and throat area against chafing, especially when the soldier wears body armor. This feature is lacking on the proposed Air Force tiger stripe BDU shirt.

* Name tapes: These are now attached with Velcro, something wearers of flight suits have done for years.

* Shoulder patches: again attached with Velcro.

* Zippered shirt front: No more buttons to lose, break or wear through the fabric. Additional closure is also obtained with Velcro.

* Calf pocket: Each pant leg has two storage pockets, also closed with Velcro and adapted from the pockets found on flight suits.

* Pen pockets: Added to the forearm of the left sleeve.

* Drawstring waist: This improvement will replace the size adjustment tabs found on the current design.

* Velcro sleeve cuffs: Again, a significant improvement over buttons that get broken, lost or wear through the fabric of the cuff.

* A looser fit: Less tailored, allows for layering in colder climates and is less restrictive than the proposed Air Force design.

* Pleated shirt back: Bellows allow for ease of movement and less restriction across the shoulders, especially when wearing body armor and a pack.

* Chest pockets: Allow for ease of entry, especially under body armor. The Air Force design lacks this feature.

* Cargo pocket for pants: These pockets have been redesigned. They feature a forward leaning flap for ease of entry and also have an elastic drawstring to make opening and closing easier. The Air Force design relies on the more traditional button closures.

* Pouches: The new Army BDU trousers also have pouches for inserts for kneepads. The shirts also have this feature for elbow pad inserts. Soldiers will still be able to wear external pads, too. The Air Force uniform is completely devoid of this feature.

* The “Camo” Pattern: It actually camouflages the wearer and contains shades of tan, green and gray. Designed for functionality rather than just to make its wearer “different,” the Army’s new uniform does what it is designed to do, something the Air Force’s new fashion statement does not.

These are just some of the improvements and features that the Army’s uniform designers included in the BDU for wear in the field. In addition to the convenience and functionality improvements, the new Army BDU will save the soldier money on sewing and laundry costs because the uniforms will not require starch to look sharp and many of the insignia now sewn on can be conveniently attached and replaced with the Velcro tabs that are part of the uniform.

The Air Force uniform, on the other hand, seems to be nothing more than an attempt by the nation’s junior service to differentiate itself from the Army. The pattern, a variation of the pattern first designed by the now defunct South Vietnamese Army includes blues, grays and greens in the tiger stripe pattern familiar to veterans of the Vietnam War.

Most critics of the Air Force uniform wonder how effective the new pattern will be, especially in light of leadership statements that the uniform is intended primarily for garrison use in the United States. That means the Air Force will still need to develop a uniform for deserts and other environments where the “tiger stripe” pattern and colors do nothing to conceal the wearer.

The Air Force in its wisdom also decided to experiment with a Henley collared T-shirt. This is a major departure from the less expensive, more readily available brown and black t-shirts that are now authorized for the current uniform. Obviously, the underemployed general officer who thought this one up doesn’t seem to care that the new Henley T-shirts, made from moisture wicking material, are far more expensive than the easier-to-find round-necked cotton T-shirts.

Air Force officials claim that they have not yet finalized a decision on the new tiger stripe pattern BDU. That may be true, but if the past is prologue, we can expect to see a repeat of the uniform policy changes that occurred after the first Gulf War when then-Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak foisted the unpopular “bus driver’s uniform” on the service. It will then be interesting to hear the comments that Airmen will have to endure when they are assigned to joint units with soldiers and Marines.

And as for that underemployed general at the Pentagon, he will by then have either a) been promoted, b) retired or c) come up with some other ill-conceived, hare-brained idea on how to further complicate the lives of the men and women in blue.

Paul Connors is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at paulconnors@hotmail.com. © 2004 Paul Connors. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.