Get the latest military news and headlines delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
Soldiers who have spent any time in the field know that chiggers, ticks and other biting critters can burrow into unspeakable places on the body, spread disease, and generally destroy any chance for personal comfort.
In an effort to win the war on bugs, Army equipment officials have decided to issue insecticide-treated uniforms to every new soldier entering the Army starting next year.
The move is part of a plan to replace standard Army Combat Uniforms with new ones that have been specially treated with permethrin, a potent insecticide known as a synthetic pyrethroid that’s been a key ingredient of the Defense Department Insect Repellent System for two decades.
“There is going to be a requirement for all soldiers to have permethrin-treated Army Combat Uniforms,” said Lt. Col. Eugene Wallace, product manager for Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment at Fort Belvoir, Va.
The ACU-P effort is scheduled to begin this fall when the new uniforms will become available for current soldiers to purchase at Military Clothing Sales stores, Wallace said.
Soldiers have worn permethrin-treated uniforms for decades, but past methods have been ineffective at protecting them from insect-borne diseases and in some cases caused skin irritations, officials at Program Executive Office Soldier said.
Soldiers and units often treat uniforms with permethrin, using what’s known as the Individual Dynamic Absorption Kit, a process that involves soaking uniforms in a bag of permethrin.
In 2007, the Army began looking at alternative treatment methods after Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker said the IDA kits often under-coated uniforms with permethrin and left soldiers vulnerable to illness such as Leishmaniasis, a skin disease transmitted by infected sand flies, according to PEO Soldier officials.
More than 4,000 soldiers were infected with the condition between 2003 and 2009, officials said. In some cases, these individual treatment kits result in the permethrin being too concentrated on random sections of the uniforms. This led to contact dermatitis and other skin rashes, according to PEO Soldier officials.
Treating uniforms with permethin at the factory level provides consistent coverage that’s strong enough to kill crawling insects but safe for everyday wear, PEO Soldier officials said, adding that Schoomaker approved treatment method in 2008.
In addition, agencies such as the National Academy of Science-Committee on Toxicology, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintain that “soldiers who wear uniforms treated with permethrin at doses approved for factory treatment (fabric impregnation concentration of 0.52 percent weight of permethrin/weight of fabric) are unlikely to experience adverse health effects,” according to a March 2010 memo from Army Public Health Command.
Soldiers deploying to the warzone have been wearing flame-resistant ACUs that have been factory treated with permethrin for the past two years.
Since the reported number of tick-borne and mosquito-borne disease cases in the U.S. continues to increase, the Army wants to ensure that every soldier is outfitted with ACU-Ps, uniform officials said.
“These permethrin-treated uniforms provide the best protection available today,” Wallace said. Permethrin is a “key component of the DoD Insect Repellent System -- that’s what we have tested it to, and it works.”
The Army intends to start outfitting new trainees with four sets of ACU-Ps as part of their basic clothing bag issue beginning early next spring, Wallace said.
All soldiers will eventually be required to wear ACU-Ps, but uniform officials have not set a wear-out date for standard ACUs, Wallace said. The ACU-P is not scheduled to cost more than the current ACU, which averages about $89 a set, he said.
PEO Soldier officials claim the new uniforms require no special laundering and the treatment should last for the life of the uniform. Soldiers will still have to wear insect repellent on exposed skin areas for complete protection, Wallace said, but wearing the ACU-Ps should solve the problem of biting insects in the field.
“If you are in a pretty nasty environment where you’ve got a lot of ticks and chiggers … you will be more effective at completing your mission,” Wallace said.