Earlier this week, a friend sent me an article from the UK's Daily Mail indicating that the U.S. Army was planning to replace its "Universal Camouflage Pattern" less than a decade after it was first introduced. The cost for this clothing faux pas? A cool $5 billion! According to the Daily Mail, the design, which combines grey and green blotches in a pixilated pattern, was supposed to disguise soldiers equally well in desert and in more temperate terrain.
But critics claimed that the camouflage did not work properly in either environment.
It gets better - the article goes on to quote insiders and others-in-the-know that the primary motivation for the Army's wardrobe malfunction was "to make the Army appear 'more cool' than the Marines." Not that it ever could, but the resultant uniforms were also said to leave soldiers vulnerable in battle! "Brand identity trumped camouflage utility" the article quotes military journalist Eric Graves.
If they'd asked us Vietnam vets, we could have saved the Army a lot of money. I say that because if nothing else we looked cool, adapting our Army gear to the Vietnam climate and terrain in very fashionable ways. Boonie hats, headbands, short sleeve jackets, extra pockets, and all the other clothing innovations enabled us to be comfortable and cool.
So what if the folks in the black pajamas - the NVA and Viet Cong - weren't about making a fashion statement?
But then I thought just how much $5 billion could buy in education and re-integration and counseling and all the other things our returning soldiers need. Nobody is going to care who looked cooler than whom in Iraq and Afghanistan - or Vietnam for that matter. But, thanks to the Army's uniform boondoggle, we have $5 billion less to help and support our soldiers and veterans.
Henry David Thoreau probably said it best "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."