New Marine Uniform Beats Fashion Fatigue

The U.S. Marines may never be thought of as a bastion of fashion, but the Corps is about to make the boldest change the military has seen in decades in "battle dress uniform."

They called them "cammies" — the specially designed camouflage uniforms U.S. military troops wear on the battlefield to help keep them hidden from enemies — and they haven't changed significantly in 20 years. Until now.

This week the Corps introduces new cammies it says represent the leading edge of the type of battlefield clothing needed by a 21st century soldier.

Perhaps the most striking feature is the new camouflage pattern. Replacing the large, familiar splotches of black, brown and green — known as "woodland camouflage" — is a pattern that resembles a computerized digital printout of pixels.

The new small pattern lets a Marine virtually disappear by walking into brush or a wooded area, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones, who has spearheaded the new uniform effort. For the first time last week, Jones "modeled" the latest in battle dress on a trip to San Diego.

Designed With Battlefield in Mind

The uniform was designed with field needs in mind, according to Jones. It has more brown tones (known as "coyote brown") than current uniforms. That particular change was the result of initial feedback from Marine Corps scouts and snipers who reported brown tones were better colors to help stay hidden.

Jones also says the new pattern better reflects the optical realities of the battlefield. "There are no straight lines in nature," he points out.

Another version of the uniform has light brown and sandy shades for use in the desert.

The new cammies have other features not seen before, including at least one that's sure to be popular in the ranks — the new fabric is "permanent press." That means leathernecks will no longer have to spend time at the ironing board.

The jury is still out on some of the other elements, including zip-off long sleeves on the shirt that can instantly convert it to short sleeves for hot weather. Marines generally roll up their sleeves when it's hot, but the tight roll of the fabric above the elbow often can constrict the biceps, making it more difficult to shoot a rifle, said Jones.

And the pants have reinforced knees. Marines have complained for years that the knees on their pants wear out the quickest from wear and tear in the field.

No More Spit and Polish

The "spit and polish" of Marine black boots may also be about to go by the wayside. The new uniform for the first time has high-topped brown suede lace-up boots. They can be cleaned with a typical suede brush.

For the first time, officers will also wear a "subdued" or black rank insignia on their lapels. This will make the Marine Corps uniform more consistent with Army field uniforms. Marines have objected for years to wearing silver and gold insignia in the field — shiny objects make them a target for snipers.

The Marines are continuing to "field test" the uniform with their units at Camp Pendleton and Twenty-Nine Palms in California, as well as in Okinawa, Japan. Pendleton is getting the woodlands colors this week; Twenty-Nine Palms will get the desert colors next week.

Depending on the feedback from troops, a final design will be approved in the next several weeks, and the new uniform will start appearing in the field as soon as late summer.

And while the Marines may not be slaves to fashion, that doesn't mean they want to fall behind the curve. Jones has also ensured that his brethren in other services don't "swipe" his uniform. The commandant says he want to get the camouflage pattern "trademarked." To ensure Marine Corps' uniqueness, the Marine Corps emblem of the world globe with a naval anchor has been discreetly worked into the fabric pattern.