By Kaleb Dissinger, U.S. Army Heritage Museum.May 14, 2007
Three years ago this week the Army introduced a completely new style of uniform to its serving personnel. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) was officially established as the combat and garrison uniform for the military on 14 June 2004, the Army's 229th birthday. This new uniform is unlike any other issued in the Army's long history. As Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston noted last year, "this uniform was designed by Soldiers for Soldiers - a uniform designed for combat and designed to be worn under body armor." The project was run by Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier and incorporated Soldiers from 3rd Battalion (Bn) of the 2nd Infantry (INF) Regiment of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and 1Bn/25 INF of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team beginning in January of 2003.
Due to obvious deficiencies in the combat usability of earlier type uniforms, the ACU was intended to improve upon and fix many known problems. In all, there were at least twenty improvements made. Some of these include a mandarin collar that can be worn up or down. Velcro was added for patches, tabs and devices. Elbow and knee pouches for pad inserts were included along with draw strings at the leg cuffs and waist. Added were tilted chest and cargo pockets with Velcro closures, and integrated friend or foe identification squares on both the left and right shoulder pocket flaps. Many of these improvements allow easier access and comfort while wearing body armor. However, not nearly as visible is the one primary transformation, the new digital camouflage pattern.
The theory behind the digitized pattern is to allow the Army to operate in multiple environments using one camouflage pattern. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. O'Neill , USA-Retired, is considered the father of digital or dual texture camouflage. O'Neill found "that a digital pattern when applied correctly, actually reduces the detect ability reduction in the range of 50% compared to 3-color NATO and unpatterned targets." Master Sergeant Jeff Myhre, a leader on the ACU research group remarked, "The color scheme in the ACU capitalizes on the environments that we operate in," which include forested, desert, and urban areas. Digital camouflage was first instituted on vehicles of the US Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment while the unit was stationed in Germany during the late 1970s through the early 1980s.
Transformation of and upgrades to the ACU are constantly being looked at. In fact, since the uniform was introduced in 2004, PEO Soldier has had a webpage dedicated to informing both the military and the public about the intricacies of the ACU. In addition, there is also a link that allows current serving Soldiers to offer suggestions and comments on how to improve the uniform.
The ACU was designed with usability in mind. Not only does it allow easier movement and access to pockets while wearing body armor; it also was intended to be worn in a multitude of environments. A uniform designed by the men and women who wear it may be one of the most innovative ideas the Army has introduced in a long time.