By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 22, 2011) -- As of June 14, 2011, Soldiers can wear the patrol cap with their Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, and they can take the uniform to alterations to have their name tapes, service tapes and ranks sewed on.
A Soldier's skill badges could also be sewn on -- if those badges were available in clothing sales.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III acknowledged ahead of the recent changes that vendors for military clothing items would not be ready immediately to supply the embroidered skill badges to Soldiers for sewing on their ACU. But during a blogger's round table June 20, he said the Army/Air Force Exchange Service, commonly referred to as AAFES, was working with suppliers to have those items hanging from peg hooks in clothing sales by end of the summer.
"The Army G-4 has gone to AAFES and they should have some answers here in a couple of weeks on when vendors will be able to produce (skill badges) in MILSPEC (military specification) requirements and have those out into the force," Chandler said. "So I'm expecting some type of answer in a couple of weeks on a timeline, and past practice -- probably 8-10 weeks from now."
On June 11, 2011, Army senior leadership announced change to the service's Army Combat Uniform policy that that involved a change in the default headgear for Soldiers -- a switch from the black wool beret to the patrol cap. Additionally, Soldiers were told that they could sew certain accouterments to their ACU shirts that had previously been attached to uniforms using only Velcro.
The changes went into effect for Soldiers June 14.
In July, an Army uniform board will meet to discuss other Army uniform issues, Chandler said. That board will look into issues involving Army physical training uniforms as well as placement of buttons on the ACU, an issue Chandler said is related to fire safety.
"One of the things that we're going to take into consideration is, for instance, using buttons on the cuffs," Chandler said. "There's a reason why we have Velcro on this uniform and why we had buttons on the Battle Dress Uniform or on the Desert Combat Uniform. And that is, it's basically to kind of prevent what's called a 'fire chimney,' which is -- if you have an open collar, the chances of a fire being pulled up along inside of your shirtsleeve and burning your skin are higher."
Chandler said if you can close down the open sleeves, it's possible to reduce the risk of burns.
"There (are) options instead of having the button on the outside, like we used to have on the BDU, where you could put it on the inside of the collar and still prevent the chimney effect of fire," he said. "So we're going to take a look at that. We have a couple of designs that we're going to look at (during) the Army uniform board and look at the cost associated and then come back with a recommendation to the chief of staff of the Army."
The Army is also conducting a study to get a new "family" of patterns to put on Army combat uniforms. The patterns included would be effective in "wooded," "arid," and "transitional" environments. Additionally, a fourth pattern would be used on personal protective equipment and organizational clothing and individual equipment such as the outer tactical vest.
Chandler said Soldiers have suggested the Army switch all uniforms across the Army, away from the "universal camouflage pattern" used on the ACU and go instead with the "Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern" or OCP.
"You know, we're not going to do that," Chandler said. "What we're going to do is look at a new Army uniform through a very deliberate process using some technology and industry to figure out a better pattern that works in more than a very specific area, like Afghanistan with the OCP right now."
Chandler said developing a single new pattern for all Soldiers to wear would be an unusually complex task for the Army.
"You cannot design a uniform right now, with the technology that we currently know of, that will cover all conditions where you would need to conceal a person," he said. "But we do believe that we can come up with something for a percentage of the environments that the Army will operate in. We can come up with a pattern that will work within acceptable parameters."
Critical to the family of patterns the Army is looking for is that fourth pattern that, while different than the others, must play nicely with them all. It will be the pattern that covers the very expensive organizational gear that all Soldiers must wear in combat environments -- and that organizations and units simply can't afford to buy multiple copies of in multiple patterns.
"The largest cost for (the) combat uniform is the organizational equipment that you're issued -- your outer tactical vest, your plate carrier, your Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment kit and so on. That's the most expensive cost -- and it's in the billions of dollars," he said.
Also headlining at the July uniform board is the Army physical fitness gear, something Chandler said may be ripe for a change by now.
"I've had some feedback that we ought to take a look at the entire physical fitness uniform itself, since it's been around for awhile," he said. "And there have been some changes in industry that we may be able to provide something at a lesser cost, that's better for our Soldiers. So we're going to take a look at it."
In particular, Chandler said, the night-time reflectivity of the uniform is something being looked at. That is a safety concern for commanders, he said.
"We have actually done a study to look at the original reflective material that was in the improved physical fitness uniform, the one that Soldiers have now," he said. "There are changes right now with that pattern, so that it's a digital pattern which has a greater reflectivity without actually changing the way that it looks."
Commanders currently are augmenting the current PT uniform with reflective belts to enhance the safety of Soldiers exercising in dark environment. But the reflective belts, Chandler said, are costly -- about $6 each.
"I think we could use that six or seven bucks to do something more, besides having people buy a belt. But we don't have the solution yet," he said.
Soldier issues with the PT gear also extend to chafing, because for some Soldiers the liner on the shorts doesn't fit as it should. "Modesty" has also been a concern, Chandler said. "Some folks weren't satisfied with the level of coverage."
The Army's senior enlisted advisor recently embarked on a seven-day tour overseas to visit with Soldiers, and said he'll be engaging them on multiple topics, but will also include their insight on uniform issues. Their answers, he said, will be used, along with results of post-deployment surveys and social media comments and surveys, to help develop future changes to Army uniforms.
"I'll probably speak to several thousand Soldiers over the next seven days," Chandler said. "I'll ask each one of them what they think about the uniform and what changes they'd like to see -- so that's how it happens."