Make a 21st century U.S. military uniform that every branch can wear
(Bloomberg) – Why does the US military have so many different uniforms?
It is understandable that each branch has its own dress code. And it makes sense to adapt the battlefield clothing to the combat environment: brown for the desert, green for the forests, white for the mountains. But over the past 70 years, the Pentagon has amassed quite a store of clothing, with various uniforms for the base and the battlefield, ships and planes, working and working, and pretty much everywhere in between.
Now this sprawling empire of martial clothes is taken care of a bit.
The Air Force decided a few months ago to adopt the new Army combat uniform, accelerating a larger effort to lighten the military’s wardrobe and better unify the forces that operate from more and more together. The price to pay ? The Air Force has said it will spend $ 237 million on the transformation, which is expected to be completed by April 2021.
The design, replacing an 11-year-old camouflage uniform, is borrowed from the Army’s Operational Camouflage Model, or OCP, a mix of brown, green and beige introduced by this branch three years ago. (The military has not finished sending it to everyone, including reservists and members of the National Guard.)
The goal is for the US armed forces to appear more unified. The military often combines personnel from its different branches in operations, making similar uniforms practical. They can also foster camaraderie between departments, officials said – a sore point with some traditionalists, however, given that separate uniforms were meant to instill pride in a particular branch.
The Pentagon is more interested in practicality than pride these days. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert LaBrutta, who is leading the transition effort, noted that in the various theaters where the Air Force is active, “We’re not just in the air, we’re on the ground in. day-to-day combat situations. -daytime.
Growing up out of the military after World War II, the Air Force often borrowed innovations from the military, including the design of uniforms. After the Vietnam War, the military decided to make standard camouflage uniforms on and off the battlefield. It was at this point that technology was brought to bear in an effort to perfect designs using multiple colors – and later, mottled colors – to hide enemy soldiers.
But different services meant different uniforms for Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. Army Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, enlisted senior advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was initially cold about the idea of unifying the uniform. While he admitted that in certain theaters of operations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, it makes sense that members of all branches wear the same type of uniform, he told the Air Force Times in 2015 that “distinct uniforms also affect the culture of a department. “
The shift to a common model “would lose that kind of identity that brings esprit de corps,” Troxell told the newspaper. “We need to make sure, above all, that men and women are proud to be who they are.”
Three years later, Troxell shifted his view, telling Bloomberg that while military personnel are to be proud of their individual branch, the growing emphasis on joint operations – and ensuring that enlisted personnel can operate in different environments – has become a critical focus of the military. .
“If you look at the operating environment, so many violent extremists like ISIS are a global threat. Russia is not only in Europe and Asia. China is not just in Asia. The war is going to be multi-domain and multi-function, ”Troxell said. “We need men and women who can cross service boundaries. “
“It transcends uniforms,” he said. “It’s about being interoperable.
To that end, in 2015, the military began phasing out an earlier camouflage pattern in favor of the OCP. Not to be outdone, the Navy decided last year to streamline its uniforms, releasing a new OCP-like pattern in place of its blue camouflage. The new uniform in green, beige and black patterns will meet sailors’ demands for something more comfortable, light and breathable. Such complaints, along with nearly two decades of fighting, in which new designs and innovations were tested in combat, played a role in this military-scale aesthetic shift.
Military uniforms have come a long way since America’s infancy. For a century or more after the Revolutionary War, uniforms mirrored civilian clothing, said Michael McAfee, curator of history at the West Point Museum. Typical regimental coats “were basically just a neatly tailored version of what a civilian might wear.”
As with 19th century street fashion, barracks clothing changed over time. In the 1820s uniforms became very decorative, but over the next decade ornaments were abandoned in favor of a more conservative look, although high collars and tall caps survived. At the time of the Civil War, the US military wore sackcloth-inspired blue uniforms with a looser fit, critically adapting to large-scale battles against secessionists in the South.
Once the rebellion was suppressed, the shift to multiple uniforms began, following European trends, as the US military began adopting a new set of ceremonial uniforms in the 1870s. The proliferation of different types of fatigues and Formal military outfits will accelerate after World War II. Meanwhile, when it comes to camouflage, the US military began to experiment as early as the turn of the 20th century. However, it was only used on a larger scale after Vietnam.
In the Air Force, combat uniforms have been around since its inception. Commonly referred to as utilities, they have always been worn for jobs, from servicing an aircraft to operating in combat zones. This plain blue or green suit persisted until 1957, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, when aviators donned their first camouflage uniform. With ground troops still part of the branch, camouflage was to improve close combat performance, especially when airmen were deployed to Southeast Asia.
At its peak in the early 1960s, the Air Force had as many as five uniforms. Some, like the famous blue suit, were intended for formal settings, while the solid green uniforms have remained from the pre-camouflage era. Others, such as the tiger stripe pattern derived from the South Vietnamese and the French, were innovative additions for wartime.
Thanks to the threat posed by the Soviet Union to Western Europe, the main uniform of the US military after Vietnam initially reflected a wooded environment. The combat dress uniform, or BDU, was the Pentagon’s oldest camouflage pattern, adopted by all branches of the military and worn until about seven years ago.
Then, a few years after the attacks of September 11, services resumed. Aviators’ combat uniforms, or ABUs, began to appear in the Air Force. Lightweight and wrinkle-resistant, they were ideal for the desert climates of the Middle East. The Air Force also resurrected the tiger stripe pattern, this time in beige and pale green colors.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, the ABU was finally accompanied by “multicams”. A precursor to OCP, this uniform was designed as a unique solution to blend in with forests and deserts with multiple camouflage patterns.
Now, as the Air Force moves to follow the Army, Airmen will wear the OCP, whether at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at a Pentagon office.
Neither ABU, nor multicams, nor OCP, however, escaped criticism. From a tough button on an already impractical pocket to patterns and colors that don’t work as expected, service members are quick to complain if something doesn’t work. Uniform changes, whether wholesale replacements or adjustments to existing designs, are generally inspired by practicality – a “learning process,” said Kate Atanasoff, spokesperson for the Air Force.
One problem with the multicams was the inclusion of a green motif, despite a significant number of servicemen stationed in the Middle East. Another was the way the uniforms fit on women, who now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, a slightly higher percentage than in the U.S. Army as a whole. They had to endure things like tailoring pants and adjusting the waist to allow for wider hips, said D’Ann Campbell, a visiting history professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Campbell said the new uniforms would go a long way in recognizing the different needs of a gender mainstream army. LaBrutta said the positive responses from the military who wore the Air Force’s OCP, including approval of its fit for both sexes, is a big part of why his team pushed for its expansion.
To purchase the OCP, enlisted Airmen – those serving at a lower rank than an officer – will receive a $ 20 bonus in October. Commissioned officers will pay out of pocket. Enlisted Guardsmen and Reserve Airmen will need to purchase their uniforms through the Defense Logistics Agency.
While the shift to full-time camouflage after the Vietnam War was supposed to instill a sense of readiness in all servicemen, wherever they are stationed, Atanasoff sees an added benefit: the image it presents to the American people. who pays the bills.
“We want them to know and understand that sometimes we are a nation in conflict,” she said, “and wearing the uniform is a reminder of that.”