Submitted by Eric Daniel
The Army is conducting yet another review of the camouflage pattern of its combat uniforms. This makes it what, the third or fourth such review on the pattern du jour? What I find interesting though, is not so much how much attention is being paid to the debate around the camouflage pattern, and whether or not we need one "one pattern works nowhere" uniform, or several regional/seasonal uniforms to maximize local effectiveness, but how little attention we are paying to camouflaging everything else but the uniform.
One of the first things that leaps out at you about the ACU pattern is its lack of black. "Black is not a naturally occurring color" the Army says, and its use on the battlefield defeats the effectiveness of camouflage. Yet we're all packing at least one piece of black equipment; our weapons. As a scout looking for bad guys, one of the things you look for is black angular objects, which are universally man made, and on the battlefield usually mean weapons.
So why do we still have black weapons?
I'm not talking about sending all our guns back to the factory to get some sort of high speed "realtree" pattern retro added, but rather just addressing the issue at the unit level and paint them some color other than black. I searched and searched TRADOCs website looking for regulations regarding camouflaging equipment, and other than a circular detailing how to apply CARC paint and what pattern to use on the woodland camouflage pattern on tactical vehicles (which, by the way, still includes the color black), the only guidance I could get on the subject was to ensure that what ever camouflage you use does not interfere or degrade the performance of the equipment, which seems a no brainer to me.
So, having not found anything that expressly forbids painting weapons, I decided to do the foolish yet administratively correct thing and broach the subject with my food chain.
"No" was the answer I got. The rational behind the decision was varied.
"Let joes paint their weapons, and they'll be tagging them with gang signs." Ok, a valid concern, so to mitigate that you limit their color options to, say, tan, and you have their team leader supervise them. Better yet, let the team leader do all the painting.
"They'll over-paint them, and gum up the weapon." Again, another valid concern, and again, one that can be mitigated by the judicious application of NCO leadership and some common sense when painting. This isn't painting the Sistine chapel; it's breaking up the pattern of a black piece of gear, and a little bit of tan paint will go a long, long way. Want to protect the bolt? Take it out. Want to protect your optics? Cover the lenses with a layer of grease. There are a multitude of ways to get the job done without fouling the weapon (I know because I've seen units do it.)
"Squadron won't like it, because we won't be uniform with the rest of the squadron."
Bingo, here we go, the real reason why we'll never do it; uniformity. Heaven forbid we have a Squadron formation some year and one troop shows up with brown weapons. Never mind that camouflaging yourself and equipment is an essential field skill that could actually save your life some day, we'd much rather look identical for the next change of command ceremony. It saddens me that on the one hand we tout ourselves as the most powerful and sophisticated army in the world, but at the same time we lack the intestinal fortitude to make a simple decision to camouflage our equipment for strictly cosmetic reasons.