Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday sidestepped when asked if he backed House legislation requiring the services to come up with a single camouflage uniform as a way of cutting costs.
“Quite frankly, I’m aware of the bill,” Hagel said, “but I haven’t asked any of our [service] chiefs what they think.”
Hagel then turned the question around, putting it to the Navy petty officer who asked it during a brief question-and-answer session with personnel at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
The sailor responded: “I think each service is unique, just as our uniform is unique.”
Hagel then said his opinion, if Congress asks for it, will be “based on what you all think. I’ll listen to you.”
The House action on camouflage uniforms was prompted by a Government Accountability Office report that the various camouflage uniforms now in use had cost more than $12 million to develop, and millions more to distribute to servicemembers throughout the military.
All of the services wore the same Army Battle Dress and Desert Camouflage patterns before the Marine Corps introduced its own digital patterns in 2002, the GAO report said. The Army, the Air Force and the Navy then developed their own camouflage patterns.
The GAO recommended that the services work together to develop standard camouflage uniforms or risk losing “millions of dollars in potential cost savings.”
While at Offutt on Thursday, Hagel was briefed on the capabilities of the Strategic Command, which oversees the nation's nuclear arsenal.
The trip to Nebraska was Hagel’s first to his home state since being confirmed as defense decretary in February.
In other remarks, Hagel focused on the cuts to the defense budget imposed by the congressional process called sequester.
“I’m not unaware of some of the hardships you’re dealing with” in regard to mandatory civilian furloughs, Hagel said. “I want you to know I’m aware of that [but] we have to do what is most important for our country, and that is defend our country.”