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Murtha Questions Army Camo

UPDATED: Adds HASC Call for Standardized Camo For ALL Services Rep. Jack Murtha, spurred by conversations he's had with troops in the field, wants the Army to make sure its camo works as promised. My colleague Christian Lowe at Defense Tech follows uniform issues closely from his days covering the Marines and he's not sure the Army should make any change. I'm agnostic but think commanders should have the freedom to pick whatever camo pattern works best in the the environment in which they are operating.

Ironically, the House Armed Services Committee has taken the opposite approach. I got an email July 10 from the head spokeswoman for HASC, Lara Battles, noting that their version of the defense authorization bill calls for "standardized" ground combat uniforms. The committee's report says the kind of unique camo that Murtha would promote "a tactical risk in theater, especially for those assigned to combatant commands or as individual augmentees who may be wearing a different uniform from those they are serving with in combat."

Also, the HASC report language says that the committee is "concerned" that the use of unique service camouflage uniforms means "increased costs and production inefficiencies." The report also argues that "service-specific battle dress uniforms magnify the challenges and costs associated with procuring personal protective gear and body armor that conform to the design and coloration of the basic uniform."

This is what Christian says:

No one really understood why the Army picked the sort of old-school loden colored camo. Especially since the service had already developed the MultiCam pattern with Crye Precision and Natick.

And isn't that what it all boils down to? Everyone wants MultiCam. "Spec Ops guys get to wear it...why can't I?" I even scoped out some photos of Air Force PJs sporting MultiCam during a deployment to Djibouti. And practically every cover shot from our friends at Tactical-Life.com features a MultiCam clad "operator" firing the highest speed shorty carbine around.

Look, I like MultiCam like the rest of them. But I also understand why the Army did what it did. They spent millions of dollars and lots of time studying what would work best in a range of environments with an eye toward making the Soldier's loadout easier -- one functional combat uniform for a range of environments. MultiCam was tested alongside the current ArPat (I was at Army Times Co. when the service was deciding the pattern and was following it closely with my friend Matt Cox there) and several other options and the ArPat camo won out. It was new. It was revolutionary and it was unpopular. That's what makes me think it might have been the right choice.

But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

Also, we don't have a ton of cash lying around, and some in the Army argue that the service has spent billions fielding the new uniforms and other gear in the pattern. Unless it sticks out like a sore thumb, why spend millions more to inject another version? And keep in mind the flaming hoops the Army is being forced to jump through as a line inserted by one congressman forces them to evaluate all these uniform alternatives. Nothing's going to come of it, I guarantee you that. But Petraeus, Casey and Stevenson will have to placate the Democratic bull by saying "that's a very good idea. we'll spend time, money and resources looking into it for you, but we're still going to come up with the same answer..."

I liked the congressional intervention on the M4 carbine issue, but I don't see the sense in this one.

Here's the Military.com story by Bryan Mitchell:

The Army is examining the possibility of replacing its current digital Army Combat Uniform with a different model for troops being deployed to Afghanistan following a Congressional directive contained in the latest war funding bill.

The move could mean a drastic change of combat uniforms for the tens of thousands of troops most likely to rotate through the country in the coming months and years, but it's not entirely clear if the order will lead to new uniforms or a return to the battle dress uniforms the digital versions replaced.

The move in Congress was prompted by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, who said he was first made aware of the issue during a visit with a group of noncommissioned officer Rangers serving at Fort Benning, Ga.

Murtha queried Army leaders and learned the concern was not reserved to a handful of Georgia troops. Similar sentiments had been voiced throughout units with experience serving in Afghanistan.

"The reason is that the current uniform has been primarily designed for a desert combat, like in Iraq, and obviously the terrain is much different in Afghanistan," Murtha said in an e-mail to Military.com.

"I spoke to both General Casey and General Petraeus about the issue. They also have heard the same thing, said that the Army is looking into the situation, and that funding is available for new uniforms if the Army decides to go that route."

The cantankerous Pennsylvania Congressman is a lighting rod for criticism but has often used his considerable influence to push the services into action on items he views as critical to the troops on the ground.

In the mid-2009 wartime funding bill he inserted unambiguous language to force the Army to examine an alternative to its new combat uniform – at least for Afghanistan deployments.

"Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan have serious concerns about the current combat uniform which they indicate provides ineffective camouflage given the environment in Afghanistan," the bill states. "The Department of Defense [must take] immediate action to provide combat uniforms to personnel deployed to Afghanistan with a camouflage pattern that is suited to the environment of Afghanistan."

Congress ordered the Army to provide a report on its progress by Sept. 30.

The Army declined a Military.com interview request, but the Army's top logistician said in a statement the service is looking into Murtha's demand.

"The Army is reviewing the report language on combat uniforms in Afghanistan that is contained in the FY09 Overseas Contingency Operations conference report," Deputy Chief of Staff (G-4) Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson wrote. "Once the bill is finalized, we will work with the conferees to address their concerns. The Army looks forward to working with the Congress to meet their intent."

The Army made a dramatic change in uniforms in 2004 when it shifted from the Desert Combat Uniform and Vietnam-era Battle Dress Uniform and black boots to a year-round digitized camo uniform with scuffed tan boots.

The uniform has received mixed reviews from Soldiers who think the camo pattern doesn't match desert backgrounds or woodland ones, but Army officials contend the color and pattern best match a range of environments.

The Marine Corps was the first service to introduce a digital patterned combat uniform, providing both a woodland version and a desert one depending on the environment. Marines are authorized to wear either uniform in Afghanistan depending on their operations area.

The ever-popular MultiCam pattern designed by New York-based Crye Precision is gaining some institutional credibility, with Army Special Forces troops donning the pattern in certain operations in Afghanistan and Air Force pararescuemen wearing a MultiCam "combat system" during a recent deployment to Djibouti.

But with the Army spending millions to switch to an all-in-one pattern not too long ago, switching to a two-uniform system may be too costly in time and resources.

The Army digital uniform cost approximately $88 when it was first deployed. Assuming a replacement would cost a comparable amount, the Army would need $35.2 million to re-outfit 40,000 Soldiers in Afghanistan.

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