Archive for September, 2014

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A few months ago, the Secretary of the Army announced that it would be retiring the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and transitioning to the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP), aka Scorpion W2 in Fiscal Year 2015. The new change has welcomed positive comments form Soldiers around the Army as the ACU was widely unpopular and proved to be combat ineffective since its introduction in 2004. From the pixel camouflage to all the velcro pockets, the ACU was not only a disaster but it also has become the symbol of an era distinguished by rapid change and turbulence in the Army over the course of a decade at war.  The legacy left behind by the ACU is one that has created a few positive changes and mostly negative changes for the way the military operates.  Here are a few ways that the ACU has influenced the Army as we know it today:

A Need to Fit In

Ever since the Marine Corps adopted the digital Marine Pattern (MARPAT) in 2001, the sister services of the military have been in awe of such a dramatic change in camouflage. The Army was one of the first to jump onto the pixel bandwagon after the Marines in order to keep up with the times.  After seeing how much the Marines looked like Starship Troopers, they Army said, “we need to look better than them!” However, rather than implementing individual camo for woodland and desert environments, it decided to try to save money and adopted one “universal” camo pattern that turned the Army into a grey race. Yet, when deployed to Iraq, this pattern proved to camouflage Soldiers only when standing in a gravel parking lot.

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A Push for Technology

The sight of Soldiers wearing digital pixels all over their uniforms screamed the idea that the Army was looking to embrace technological advancements in the fight against terror. It led the way in technology during every previous war, so this war was no exception.  Along with the introduction of the ACU came a rollout of brand new experimental combat systems on the battlefield.  During my service on active duty, my unit was given night vision goggles, MARCbots, thermal cameras, Boomerangs, Spider Systems, Command Remote Operated Weapon Systems (CROWS), and mobile audio collection systems. Ironically, only half of these systems are still in use today.

Zealous Military Spending

The introduction of the ACU came right before the surge of troops in Iraq and then Afghanistan. With more approval of funds to spend, the Army pushed to transform all of its old woodland and desert camouflage pattern items to look the same as the ACU. Along with this came the need to purchase new Soldier combat equipment such as ammo pouches, holsters, multitools, and surefire flashlights.  Such a huge transformation required greater budgets for supplies and the awarding of hundreds of contracts both stateside and on the battlefield. Logistics Officers and Supply Sergeants had endless budgets to buy supplies and award contracts – and they abused it to no end.  By 2010 nearly half of the Americans in Afghanistan were contractors, all of which cost the Army billions of dollars every year. The result was unnecessary supply requisitions everywhere and a budget that has soared through the roof, leaving the military broke as ever.

Bureaucracy of Leadership

In the very first year that the ACU was introduced, Soldiers and junior leaders criticized its combat effectiveness on the battlefield. In the Special Operations community, the Multicam pattern was being tested and was proving effective during multiple operations. In fact, it proved to be so much more effective than the ACU that the Army decided to give it a try in Afghanistan in 2009. Regular Combat Arms units were allowed to wear it in theater, and it received positive feedback from Soldiers. It seemed hopeful that the multicam would replace the ACU. However, as talks among the CSA, SECARMY and Congress persisted, it was determined that the Army had reached the point of no return with the ACU contract. The multicam uniform would cost 2x as much to produce, not to mention a multi-million dollar commission to Crye Precision Industries for the awarding of the contract. As a result, the Army became stuck with the same old ACU for the next few years.

Jumping the Gun

The ACU has become the staple of a military culture that is driven by swift decisions that have been made without thinking things through. Our country made the decision to invade Iraq without thinking of just how long it would take to rebuild. The UCP placed 10th in overall effectiveness in camouflage, yet the Army went with it anyway just because it felt it needed a new uniform right away. The Army employed all of these new contracts and equipment very rapidly, only to see them all go away in a couple of years. This swift decision making has left the Army with a mediocre uniform, a drained budget, and an uncomfortable predicament in which it must re-enter a battlefield that it left independent only 3 years ago. All in all, the legacy that the ACU has left should be one that is an example to young new leaders about the decisions they must be careful about making in the future, for they will affect the Soldiers, the organization, and the nation in multiple ways.