On the Army's 229th birthday, senior leadership introduced the Army Combat Uniform during a Pentagon cake-cutting ceremony. Soldiers were on display, suited-up in the wrinkle-free uniform with a digitized camouflage pattern.
Three different versions of the ACU have been developed, and more than 10,000 uniforms have been produced and dragged through the sand in Iraq and at Army training centers. Even more are on American production lines to be issued by April 2005 to Soldiers in deploying units. Fielding to the total Army should be complete by December 2007, said officials from the Program Executive Office, known as PEO Soldier.
There were 20 changes made to the uniform, to include removing the color black and adapting the digital print from the Marine Corps uniform to meet the needs of the Army, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Myhre, the Clothing and Individual Equipment noncommissioned officer in charge.
Black is no longer useful on the uniform because it is not a color commonly found in nature. The drawback to black is that its color immediately catches the eye, he added.
"The color scheme in the ACU capitalizes on the environments that we operate in," Myhre said. "The current colors on the ACU are green-woodland, grey-urban environments and sand brown-desert. The pattern is not a 100-percent solution in every environment, but a good solution across the board."
"This isn't about a cosmetic redesign of the uniform," said Col. John Norwood, the project manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment. "It's a functionality change of the uniform that will improve the ability of Soldiers to execute their combat mission."
Every change was made for a reason. The bottom pockets on the jacket were removed and placed on the shoulder sleeves so Soldiers can have access to them while wearing body armor. The pockets were also tilted forward so that they are easily accessible. Buttons were replaced with zippers that open from the top and bottom to provide comfort while wearing armor.
Patches and tabs are affixed to the uniform with Velcro to give the wearer more flexibility and to save the Soldier money, Myhre said. Soldiers can take the name-tapes and patches off their uniforms before laundering, which will add to the lifecycle of the patches. Also the cost to get patches sewn on will be eliminated, he added.
The ACU will consist of a jacket, trousers, moisture wicking t-shirt and the brown combat boots. It will replace both versions of the BDU and the desert camouflage uniform. The black beret will be the normal headgear for the ACU, but there is a matching patrol cap to be worn at the commander's discretion.
At $88 per uniform, about $30 more than the BDU, Soldiers will eventually reap gains in money and time by not having to take uniforms to the cleaners or shine boots.
The life of the ACU began in January 2003 when PEO Soldier teamed with Myhre, Master Sgt. Alex Samoba and Staff Sgt. Matt Goodine - from the 1st Stryker Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash.
The team looked at a number of uniforms and took the best part of each uniform and combined it into one. They built their first prototype and delivered 25 uniforms to Stryker squads at the National Training Center. After listening to their comments, the team went back to the lab and created prototype two.
Twenty-one uniforms were then delivered to Stryker Soldiers at the Joint Training and Readiness Center, Fort Polk, La.
"We watched them as they entered and cleared rooms, as they carried their rucksack and all of the things they had to be able to do in the uniform, and then we came up with prototype three," Myhre said.
Two issues of the third version were given to the Stryker Soldiers deploying to Iraq. Three months ago, Myhre was among a team who visited Iraq to get more feedback from Soldiers.
"We would talk to Soldiers right after they had completed a mission while the benefits of the uniform were still fresh in their minds. We wanted to know how did the uniform help the mission."