Friday, March 21, 2014

Same Sh#t, Different Day

Seems that the proliferation of camo uniforms amongst the services and the attendant costs has Congress asking questions.

Probably the most confusing part of transferring from the Corps to the Army in 1966 was the notion of "dressy" fatigues.  In the Corps, as far as Utilities were concerned, enlisted folks had dull black collar insignia of rank, and officers wore their metal rank insignia - in garrison.  In "the field", it was common practice to remove all rank insignia, especially officer type.  Made the identification of "high value targets" a bit harder for the bad guys.

In the Army, on the other hand, the uniform worn in combat had a nice white name tag, bright gold sleeve insignia for enlisted, silver/gold collar insignia for officers, silver skill badges and lovely, multi-color shoulder sleeve unit patches.  So much for camouflage, cover and concealment.

However, by 1967, USARV had realized that the fatigue uniform was far too colorful, and locally authorized "subdued" insignia, while Stateside, "technicolor" was all that was authorized.  The old "Quartermaster Uniform Store" could not sell subdued insignia, but laundry shops off base could get you a supply before you shipped out. Vietnamese shops also catered to the quasi-legal subdued insignia trade if you needed some.

The standing joke was that we had "dress fatigues" and "combat fatigues".

Fast forward to the 21st Century, and the promotion of off base wear of combat uniform by all "Warriors" by the Bushies.  Well, surely the USAF and USN did not want their folks running around town looking like "pogues" in less than exotic fighting attire.  They had to have their "Warriors" dressed like "Warriors", but of course they did not want them to be confused with Army or Marine "Warriors", so they came up with their own blue camo designs.  Not sure what blue blends in with, but it sure can't be confused with the Army or the Corps.

God bless our Beloved Corps, but it does appear that they did the only proper job in developing a useful camo Utility Uniform back in 2002, and at a bargain price - $319K in development costs.  But then, they had a long, long tradition of understanding the difference between "dress" and "combat" uniforms.  They were even able to discretely incorporate the Eagle, Globe and Anchor into their very effective "pixilated" design.  Meanwhile, the Army and USAF each spent over $3 million in developing their answer to the Marine uniform, and still did not produce a satisfactory item.

Also brings to mind the Army's refusal to adopt the one piece, flame retardant, Nomex flight suit, but rather developing a two piece, Nomex, fatigue uniform looking affair.  It took forever to field it successfully in Viet Nam, because of the multitude of size combinations involved in a two piece uniform.  Fortunately, our Group commander authorized the wear of "government issue fire retardant flight uniforms as available" as preferred to jungle fatigues, specifically to allow us access to Nomex from other services.  Thus, we would scrounge Nomex flight suits from the other services while awaiting our Army two piece uniform.

Aren't there more important issues to address, no less higher priorities for available funds, that having "dress fatigues"?


  1. Al,
    The aviators had nomex, but yet their nylon jungle boots would burn and melt like butter.
    I also heard that the early nomex unis didn't have nomex/fire retardant thread holding them together. This might have been urban legend, but i heard bit often said.
    In SOG the only thing on the uni was a blood type name tag on the left breast.But let's be real,in cqc a white nametag won't make u or break u.

  2. jim-

    Wearing jungle boots was a no-no for flight crews. We wore regular leathers. The thread story was myth, however, the first round of two piece Nomex used a brittle thread that didn't hold up well.

    The first attempts at issuing 2 piece Nomex to the crews in RVN was a fiasco. Because there were so many sizes, we were tasked to submit our exact size requirements from Co to Bn, from Bn to Gp and from Gp to 1st Avn Bde. Took nearly 4 months to do that consolidation and ship bundles to units, by which time, over 33% of the people were gone, either due to DEROS, WIA or KIA and replaced by folks who weren't necessary the same size. So we were only able to issue one set to some troops and none to a select few odd ball sized folks. Made for some pretty foul smelling crew members until we could get supply straightened out.

  3. It's hard to remember now but the original Army camo uniform - the BDU - was something of a clusterfuck at the time.

    The fabric of the originals was shoddy, wore through at the elbows and knees almost immediately, and the thing was insanely tightly woven to the point that it didn't breathe. The urban legend is that the Tropical Test Platoon walked out of the Ft. Sherman training area wearing nothing but their hats and boots, dumped the BDUs on the ground with the advice to shitcan the worthless things.

    What was frustrating for those of us in the 82nd is that we'd been locallty authorized to wear the USMC ripstop "cammies" based on the OG507 jungle fatigue pattern. They were cheap, durable, and breathable. It took the Army years to come up with a "hot weather" BDU that was effectively the same uniform.

    We were told that the big deal was that the BDU fabric was impregnated with some sort of chemical-resistant material. But, of course, the first thing you were told to do in garrison was starch and press it, which was supposed to negate the value of whatever the gunk was.

    So...yep. SSDD.

  4. And I have to say this; I have still got issues with seeing GIs wandering around in Class C Uniform.

    We were hammered on the head with the idea that those were our "grubby working clothes", that a businessman wouldn't turn up on a workday in his cutoffs and a wifebeater and we weren't supposed to go around in our fatigues off-post except for stopping for gas or groceries off Yadkin Road. The notion of recruiters, for example, turning up at public events in their fatigues? Unpossible!

    So the sight of all these dress fatigues still gives me the giggy. I just can't transcend the results of early training and prper breaking-in.

  5. Somewhere I remember reading that after WW2 the U.S. Army di some testing on camo, having used some (mostly in the Pacific) and having encountered it (I think the SS had a camo uniform by 43-44 and the German paras a little earlier - this is off the top of my head so I'm not sure...).

    From what I remember what they found was that for guys who are stationary it can work to make them less visible. But in several cases it actually made guys MORE visible when on the move than a plan dark/earth color.

    So I'm not sure that all of this cash is actually well spent. But if it makes the Joes look pretty, well, then...

    1. There was a German camo pattern alternatively called 'Schattentarn' - shadow camo. I think this describes it well: Camo patterns are fine to camouflage you when you're exploiting a favourable location and that's where they can make the difference.
      You need to go full sniper and customise your camo on all exposed surfaces to the surroundings if you want to hide in plain sight.

      BTW, isn't it funny how the Russians were ridiculed for their gazillion of different camo schemes only a decade ago? They're by now entitled to ridicule the U.S.armed forces on the same grounds.

  6. Chief/Al
    While in country SF was not supposed to wear camo which was similar to the USMC pattern and we usually didn't. I had a set that i wore , but no pics to verify. I did often wear tiger stripes with go to hell hat.One of these pics is in Jason Hardys history of SOG .Incidentally Al, i'm wearing Corcorans in the photo. I didn't like being around helos wearing j-boots.
    So what happened when i was sent to Grp to return to CONUS with the group colors? You betcha they issued us brand new woodland camo that had to be hastily sewn with patches etc.. and we all looked like 1st day recruits in our brand new duds.
    What a joke.
    When we got home these uni's were verboten.
    Later when we adopted the cammies i was stopped and bitched out by a Air Force field grade because i had my old plain field jacket over my cammies. He never heard of the wear out period and he took exception to the fact that i had stuff in my cargo pockets of the trousers. I asked him -why did they put cargo pockets on the pants if they weren't meant to be used?
    You gotta love joint services HQ's.

  7. In late 1966, my two Flight School buddies from the Corps, Tom and Gil, and I were discussing how to "adapt" to the Army. Gil observed, "The one distinctive character about the Army uniform is that it isn't - uniform." We were each issued three sets of short sleeved khaki uniforms. Gil, who processed in at Ft Knox, received three different style shirts! Two with button shut collars and one with an open, "lay flay" collar. One of the button collar shirts had flat pockets, the other two shirts had "placket" pockets. It might have been understandable if the collar style and pocket style were consistent, but they weren't. Tom and I processed in at Ft Polk, and he received three lay flat collars and I received three button collars. At least Tom and I also got a single pocket style, although I don't remember which.

    Add to this that there were three authorized fabrics for this uniform - cotton khaki (required starching), some kind of washable blend (no starching allowed) and tropical worsted (dry clean only). While the three fabrics were close in color, they were quite different in texture and obviously visually different. As Warrant Officer Candidates, we could only wear starched, cotton khaki, so at least our "uniform" shirts only came in three different designs.

    The Army Green uniform, at the time, had at least four different fabrics authorized, and each was a slightly different shade of green and different textures. However the cut and design was "uniform". But then, there were a variety of "styles" of buttons and "brass" authorized. Again, at Flight School, only standard issue buttons and "brass" was authorized. I won't begin to try to list the variants in belts and buckles.

    In the Corps, life was simple and uniforms were "uniform". One cut and style for each uniform, as well as one fabric.

    When I graduated, the khaki uniform (in all its variants) had been identified to be phased out in the next year and a half. I had three sets of virtually new USMC tropical worsted khaki color long sleeve uniforms. Rather than spend money on a nice set of new (TWs), I took my USMC TWs to the tailor shop, had the sleeves cut off, epaulets made from the sleeve fabric, and the slight "bell bottom" taken out of the trouser legs. Instant almost Army TW uniform. I figured adding another style variant to the mix wasn't going to be noticed, and it wasn't.

    BTW, the 1969 phase out date for "khakis" came and went many times until it was finally no longer authorized in 1983, IIRC. The USMC TWs did not last until then, so I ended up buying the washable blend uniform somewhere along the way.

    1. I was among the last intakes issued the tan TWs as the "summer Class A" uniform in 1980. By that time the jacket was no longer an issue item; you got the 445 short-sleeve shirt and pants. Everything else was same-same as the greens (which, as you mention, Al, were a complete rat-scramble; my original issue were the AG44 wool-blends...when the pants had begun to fade I had to go to DX for a new pair and all they had were the 344 polys, which were a much different I had to replace the jacket, too. Which, since it wasn't actually badly worn enough to DX I had to spend clothing allowance money on.).

      Thing is, that was a great uniform. Simple, classy looking. I loved that the stripes were on the sleeves and not on the shoulders like some ersatz-officer. I wore mine fight up to the wear-out date in '83 and whenever possible. It may have been one of the best travel uniforms the Army every issued.

  8. We ran into a shortage of leather boots in RVN, as USARV hadn't prepared for the need to replace moldy, rotten ones worn by aircrews as frequently as reality required. We were expected to wear jungle boots when not flying and leather only when flying. That was fine, but the "calculation" for stocking leather boots was based on what proportion of "waking hours" 120 flying hours per month amounted to. Of course, hours flown had no direct relationship to hours "suited up" in flying those hours. In reality, sweat and mold degradation to the boots was virtually the same as if we were any other troopie not regularly wading through rice paddies. The two pairs of leathers I had brought from CONUS were rotted out within 3 - 4 months.

    We had a group of Aussie pilots that we worked with, and they supplied our unit with their boots, which were infinitely more comfortable than Army issue. Looked totally different, but were easily available.

    When we were performing non-flying unit duties or ground liaison duty in the field, we dressed like grunts, of course, in jungle fatigues and jungle boots.

  9. Al,
    I used to trade with the Aussies for leather boots and their rain jackets and in turn gave them j boots and j fatigues.
    We also gave them poncho liners for victoria bitters beer.
    I poncho=1 case of beer.

  10. Prized Possessions = Mama San made lined rain jackets made out of rubber ladies ...... and army ass packs ..... things as these were orally willed upon: rotation to World, bloody poncho evac (serious enough for trip to World), evac as "frozen millionaire," (back to World). Frozen millionaire was 2/7's code word. We had a stupid one ....... Cadillacs.

  11. Speaking of prized possessions, I still own one threadbare set of herringbone twill dungarees. Best field uniform ever made.

  12. mike- totally green with envy. Somewhere along the line, my ex-wife tossed my herringbones, along with other "treasures" I had held on to. One of the many reasons she became an "ex".