At the middle of 2004, the Army announced that its soldiers would get a new uniform. No longer would G.I.s have keep separate outfits for desert or woodland combat. The new, “digital” Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, would be capable of blending into them all. Slate explained how, shortly after the roll-out:
Making the ACU as invisible as possible required developing an entirely new “digital” camouflage pattern, derived from the Marine Corps’ so-called “MARPAT” camo scheme, which was launched in 2001. MARPAT is pixilatedbit-mapped on a computer, and then “printed” directly onto nylon… Unlike the old camo, digital camo suggests shapes and colors without actually being shapes and colorslike visual white noise. While it may serve a hunter well to appear to be part of a tree, a contemporary soldier needs to be on the move, and so his camouflage must help him blend into the “flow of space.”
But how much does it help, really? The ACU has now been in service for 18 months or so; the entire Army should be outfitted with the camos by the end of this year. Some soldiers, gathered on the AR15 website, are complaining that the “universal” cammos aren’t really suited to every environment. Yeah, the outfits do a good job of hiding people in the desert and in cities, they argue. But There’s very little green in the ACU’s pattern, they argue. So the things stick out like a sore thumb wherever there’s even a bit of vegetation.
“I just came back from a range, where there was dry sandy areas, grassy areas and a wooded area behind it. Many soldiers still had BDUs [Battle Dress Uniforms, the old green outfits] and the rest had ACUs. Throughout the day I couldn’t help but notice that no matter what the backgound was, the ACU attracted the eye and stood out quite obvious, whereas the BDU really only stood out in the sandy areas. What was also quite obvious was the fact that I wasn’t the only one that noticed it. From the colonel on down, there were rather drastic remarks on the uniforms ineffectiveness. Not so much bitching about durability, velco, etc., just the colors. It was obvious that at some time, some place, this garbage will get soldiers killed.”
“I just returned from A-stan where we were on of the last units to be issued DCU’s [the old Desert Combat Uniforms]. When the ACU’s started showing up there was quite a stink about the “multi environment” claim as it stuck out badly. The SF guys would wear the “target identification cloth” (ACU) inside the wire but when on an operation would wear BDU or DCU depending where they were going. Only the office and supply pogues at Bagram thought the ACU’s were the “hip” thing to wear.
Then there’s the conspiracy theory. Different uniform designs were tried out, including a “multicam” pattern from Brooklyn’s Crye & Associates, before the Army picked its digital camos. Some say Crye’s design (see left) did a better job hiding soldiers — but wasn’t picked, regardless.
“During testing the ACU was thrown out during the first round at Natick [Soldier Systems Center]. A Multicam type of uniform had won in the final testing. As was told by Natick labs, all research was set aside… the final “choice” [was made] with absolutely no soldier feedback or testing… There are hundreds of emails and letters daily as to the ineffectiveness of the ACU. However, leadership is turning a blind eye to these very valid complaints. For what reason is unknown. Political I would guess.”
So let’s hear it: Which uniform do y’all like better? Got any stories of the ACU sticking out — or working like a charm? Sound off in the comments.
(Big ups: WT)
UPDATE 2:17 PM: Just to be clear, there are definitely situations where the ACUs work very, very well. For instance, check out this picture David Axe took at the National Training Center last July. One soldiers’ legs are practically invisible.