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The Cabbage Patch Hat

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Submitted by Eric Daniel

A while back we were conducting some MOUT training out at the combat village at Camp Pendleton when I had an interesting conversation with an OCS candidate that went something like this...

SGT Daniel, what's that on your head?

A helmet.

I know that, but what that on the helmet?

It's a camouflage cover.

It looks like a bunch of old cut up BDUs.

That's exactly what it is.

What's it for?

Camouflage.

What do you need camouflage for?

I unno, hide from the enemy?

That doesn't make sense. The insurgents in the building, so they wouldn't see you anyway until you went inside, and at that range no amount of camouflage is going to help, so really, it doesn't accomplish much other than make you stand out and look silly.

True, but what if we were fighting an enemy who wasn't in a building? What if they were in the forest, or a jungle, or a botanical garden?   What if I were on an OP and I didn't want the enemy to see me, or what if we were conducting a cross country road march and I wanted to break up my silhouette?

Why would we do that?

I unno, because we're infantry and that's what infantry does?

Actually, in the infantry we focus on conducting raids.  When would we ever do that in a forest, where there are no buildings?  All that camouflage stuff is irrelevant.  I mean, if you want to spray paint your M4, that's cool, but that helmet thing is just stupid.

Okie dokie....

What caused this scholarly discourse on field craft was my modified helmet cover.  Referred to as the "cabbage patch hat" or CPH back in the day, they were the defining symbol of the light infantry.

While I could fault the candidate for his limited grasp of infantry operations, the reality is, for many folk, especially those newly come to military service by way of the National Guard, raids ARE the only thing they've done, and this is what all their training focuses on, to the detriment of all other battle drills and combat skills.  No one thinks about setting up patrol bases, OPs, or conducting legitimate recon missions.  For them, being infantry means getting on a conveyance (be it a chopper, humvee, LMTV, Stryker, Bradley, what have you), driving out to a location, dismounting, and running into a building.  Once the "mission" is over and the house is cleared, they mount up and go "home."

To this end, I have been trying to reintroduce field craft into what we do (by MTOE, my unit is a dismounted recon troop) and that includes camouflaging yourself and equipment.  Since bringing back the CPH, a number of joes have asked me how to make one, so I figured, if they were asking, I might as well throw this out to everyone out there and you fellers can take it or leave it as you will.

Now, before I tell you how I do it, let me preface this by saying I consider this a "cat skinning exercise"; as the saying goes, there are a thousand ways to skin a cat.  Well, this is how I make CPHs.  If you make yours differently, that's great, I'm not saying mine is better or worse than yours, this is just how I do it.

First, identify the material you're going to use to make the camouflage strips.  You can use any material that you want and that your chain of command will let you get away with.  Some have used burlap, which can be spray painted repeatedly, which allows you to change up the pattern as terrain requires, but I prefer to use old uniforms (BDU/DCU in this case) as they are more durable (burlap disintegrates easily and looses it's weave.)

I cut the material into strips about 2" wide (this is not an exact science, just SWAG it) and 6" and 9" long (two different lengths.)  In the 6" strips I put one overhand not in the center of the strip, and in the 9" strips I put two overhand knots (one at the 3" mark, and one at the 6" mark.)  It's these knots that will give the cover its "poofy" appearance, and prevent it from lying flat when wet.

Put a camouflage cover on your helmet (oh, if you're going to put rank on, sew it on now because it'll be a pain to do later.)  Take a black sharpie and draw a series of rings around the helmet, starting about 2" from the bottom edge.  Keep drawing rings, 1.5-2" apart, until you get to the top of the helmet, making sure the lines stay relatively parallel to one another (think of them as lines of latitude.)

Now, take the helmet cover off the helmet and start sewing strips on to the cover, following the sharpie lines as a guide.  Sew the strips on about 2" apart, and make sure you stagger (like bricks in a wall) the rows, so you don't end up with gaps in the coverage.  My recommendation is you make that first row all 6" strips, and then alternate a six and a nine on all the remaining rows.

When sewing on the strips, I fold over the "top" half inch of material (to give the seam more strength) and sew the strip on upside down (with the strip oriented towards the top of the helmet) and reversed (with the inside portion of the fabric (in this case, the lighter side of the old BDUs) facing out.  By sewing them on like this, the strips have a little "bow" in them at the seam as they fall over, which not only helps break up the outline, but also promotes twisting in the strips.  If you were to just sew the strips on pointed down and with the camouflage pattern facing out, the strips would lay flat like shingles, especially when wet.  Once you get to the top of the helmet, just make a small circle or triangle out of the last ring so that you don't end up with a "bald spot."

Once you get all the strips sewn on, put the cover back on the helmet and try the helmet on for size.  My preference is to have the strips come down far enough to just touch my shoulders.  In the front, so that you don't get mistaken for a fungus covered sheepdog, you can trim back, or cut out completely, strips to improve your visibility (don't go overboard though; you'd be surprised how well you can see out with the strips hanging down, once you get used to them.)

At this point, you're pretty much done.  The CPH is good to go, and will only improve with age and use (as the strips fray they will improve in their function.)

Though it's possible to keep the CPH off and use it only "in case of war" (you can keep a regular helmet cover on for formations, inspections, uniformity if you have to and just slip on the CPH as needed) I like to keep it on all the time because in addition to functioning as battlefield camouflage, it also provides a good deal of shade when you're out in the sun (your neck and face are completely shaded) and it provides insulation from the sun (if you dunk it in water, it's downright cool.)

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