Armed services branches brawl over fashion

It’s always awkward when two women show up at a party wearing exactly the same dress. The branches of the U.S. military are hoping to avoid a similar situation.

The United States Marine Corps and the United States Army are supposed to be brothers in arms, so why are they fighting with each other?

The answer lies in the uniforms armed service members wear, according to an Atlantic op-ed. WhIch sector dons which pattern? Is there such thing as camouflage design ownership? Do colors really define a fighting unit?

Everyone, it seems, wants to lay claim to a particular pattern, fit and style. All sides are extremely protective of what uniform they claim is distinctly theirs.

Rabbling and infighting are pervasive throughout the entire U.S. armed forces. It doesn't start and end with the Navy scuffling with the Marines, either. It also involves the Air Force, and it especially includes the Army, which has been waging a fierce battle against the Marines over the Corps' distinctive and well-regarded MARPAT uniform.

Following a decade of poorly fitted and shoddily designed uniforms, the Army has launched an effort to overhaul the clothes its troops wear, and it's looked to MARPAT — worn by Marines since 2002 — as an example of a durable, well-concealed style.

In field testing, MARPAT proved to be more effective than the Marines' former splotched woodland design, and commanders chose to adopt it, a surprising switch for the typically conservative Corps.

Ever since, MARPAT uniforms have performed with resounding success, the model's digital pattern mimicking natural settings and the stitching and fabric holding up in dry and wet environments. As a result, Marines have grown proud of their unchanged, well-regarded attire.

The Army, on the other hand, has had no such luck with its "universal camouflage pattern" (UCP), which it released in 2005. According to Military.com, two separate studies in 2006 and 2009 revealed that the UCP performed poorly when compared with the Marines' MARPAT model and another Army prototype named the MultiCam.

UCP, The Daily reports, was an unprecedented military wardrobe disaster. According to soldiers interviewed by the now-defunct website, UCP attire failed to blend into any of the environments it was designed for. Worse, its gray-green pattern stuck out in combat zones, exposing and endangering the soldiers adorned in it.

"Wearing a uniform that stands out this badly makes it hard to do our job effectively,” an unnamed serviceman told The Daily. “If we can see our own guys across a distance because of it, then so can our enemy.”

What's worse: the UCP couldn't even withstand the test of time. According to The Atlantic, when UCP uniforms were found — en masse — to rip in the crotch, the Army continued to ship them out to supply sergeants abroad. During that same period, MultiCam clothes were found to work proficiently on troops in Afghanistan. Despite their sound reputation, the Army distributed them only to soldiers abroad, leaving stateside troops to make due with substandard UCP models.

The Army, according to The Daily, spent nearly $5 million to develop its botched UCP uniform, and, according to Military.com, another $3.4 million on UCP's temporary replacement, MultiCam.

Lawrence Holsworth, marketing director of a camouflage company called Hyde Definition, called UCP a financial disaster. “UCP was such a fiasco," he told The Daily.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, spent only $330,000 to perfect the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU), a more formal name for MARPAT.

How did they spend so little on such an effective uniform? The answer is quirky and surprisingly simple: by sending soldiers to Home Depot.

According to a tale told to The Daily, Marine commanders approached snipers at sniper school in Quantico, Va., and asked them for their input on the best camouflage colors. Intrigued, the team of snipers trotted over to a local Home Depot and wound up in the paint section, where they picked out a Ralph Lauren hue. Today, we refer to that color as "Coyote Brown." It's the basis for MARPAT, the most envied uniform in the United States military.

Because of the design's much-ballyhooed success, other branches of the military are champing at the bit to replicate and adopt MARPAT, but the Marine Corps won't let them.

In 2010, when the Navy adopted a similar digital pattern to that of the Marines, the Corps got in a huff and sailor leadership backed down, restricting the newly acquired digital desert pattern to strictly Special Warfare units.

The severity of that tiff, however, pales in comparison to the tug-of-war waged in 2011 by the Army and the Marines over MARPAT. After the widespread failure of the UCP design, Army brass began a process to develop a new uniform for its troops. Adopting MARPAT was an obvious possibility, but Marine brass would have none of it.

They asserted that separate designs between military bodies were critical in distinguishing one from the other.  Plus, Marines felt strongly that MARPAT was Marine property.

"It's important those designs are reserved for Marines," Marine Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent told The Daily Mail. He describes MARPAT as "proprietary."

Other Army officials moved to quell the flames of the inter-military row, insisting that their soldiers wouldn't be wearing Marine designs any time soon. Rather, Army spokeswoman Debi Dawson told Fox News, the distinct Marine patterns would be used only as a model for a new uniform.

The government, along with servicemen, has publicly decried the internal quibbling between the Army and the Marines. Writing for The Army Times, an anonymous soldier urged the two sides to put away their petty differences and work together to create a uniform that preserves individuality and improves troop safety.

"Equipping U.S. troops with the best gear available trumps the Corps’ need to feel special about itself," the serviceman wrote.

In a 2012 audit, the Government Accountability Office scolded all military units — not just the Marines and the Army — for their "fragmented approach" to uniform design. If groups were to work together, the GAO says, the savings could be enormous. The GAO estimates that if the Army works with another wing of the armed service on redesign efforts over the next five years, it stands to save $82 million. If it doesn’t, it will spend almost $4 billion on uniforms and equipment.

Now, in the midst of a $5 million redesign, the Army has gone back to the drawing board, but the same conflicts remain.

“That’s what this really comes down to," Soldier Systems Daily editor Eric Graves told The Daily. "We can’t allow the Marine Corps to look more cool than the Army."

 

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