Tactical Tailor

SMA Chandler Discusses ACU Changes

Yesterday, in an unprecedented event, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III took some time out of his busy schedule for some Q&A with the media about the recent ACU changes announced to coincide with the Army’s birthday. SMA Chandler led off with a great statement, “we’ve been working on Army uniforms for 236 years.” This was an excellent point, illustrating that the Army uniform evolves along with the Army. Overall, the briefing was excellent. In addition to comments on the new changes to ACU wear, he mentioned that they are working on improvements to the Physical Fitness Uniform, particularly the shorts. He also discussed the transition from ACUs to the ASU for those serving on the Army staff coming up in October.

Unfortunately, I felt like the heavy. When I asked the SMA why the Army had announced the ACU changes without utilizing the Army Uniform Board process, I was told, “The Secretary said we didn’t need to wait.” One point was made very clear, the Secretary of the Army makes the decisions. Both the SMA and CSA only make recommendations. Not real cool, especially when the Army hides behind that same process when they don’t want to move on something. I think I was more surprised that he thought that this was acceptable behavior than I was that it had actually gone down that way.

While some Soldier concerns over Velcro have been alleviated by the recent changes to rank and name tapes, one remaining issue with Velcro has yet to be dealt with. Many Soldiers want to replace the Velcro found on the ACUs cuffs with buttons. I thought this was a dead issue after speaking with PEO Soldier in August of 2009 about it. The concern is that buttons will not make the cuff tight enough around the wrist to prevent flames from traveling inside the sleeve in an IED event or fire. The SMA did reiterate this same sentiment.

SMA Chandler said that the beret and Velcro were the top two uniform concerns of the Soldier. One interesting question was asked by another blogger, “what was number three?” The answer was most revealing; MultiCam. Soldiers want MultiCam and the Army’s top NCO said that that wasn’t going to happen.

Personally, I really appreciate the access he afforded us. Additionally, he was very well informed, at least from the Point of View of the Soldier. While I said he was very well informed, one point concerns me. Institutionally, I found him to be a little lacking. He had been briefed that the Army is currently looking for new camouflage but his answers to my queries about total cost to recapitalize the Army’s Soldier Systems led me to believe that no one has bothered to ask how much this all will cost. He plain old didn’t know and tried to punt by explaining that the Army wouldn’t know until they had fully weighed the camo improvement program proposals from industry. The problem is, the prices for ACUs and OCIE aren’t going to change that much and they are looking at going from one pattern of ACUs to two or three per Soldier. That is going to add up.

The Army leadership needs to get out in front of this now before someone in Congress asks them how many Billions this will cost. And, mark my words, it will be in the Billions to completely replace the Army’s uniform and OCIE that has been purchased over the past seven years.

The changes to the ACU don’t mean much to me these days but it is good to hear that morale is so easy to raise. Change hats and add the expense of sewing on badges and all is well. But hey, it isn’t all gloom and doom. They’ve done something. And they plan to do more. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.

26 Responses to “SMA Chandler Discusses ACU Changes”

  1. Doc says:

    Has anybody happen to mention to the new SMA that nobody that has a real job in the Army actually keeps there cuffs closed tight and that they actually roll their sleeves on regular tops and cut the sleeves on the ACS so that they can roll them up, so nobody cares about making them tight. So just get rid of the Velcro and just go to buttons already.

  2. Administrator says:

    Doc, just because nobody does it, it doesn’t make it right. I used to roll the cuffs on my BDUs back in the day but I was still wrong.

    The point is, the Velcro is there for a reason; to make you safe.

  3. Strike-Hold! says:

    Yes – but Doc’s point is valid: its not the technology (ie, buttons or velcro), its the behaviour that makes the uniform work better or not.

    The other interesting sub-text to this whole episode is this: isn’t this “we know what’s best and don’t need to go through the process” behaviour exactly the same as what gave us UCP in the first place?

  4. Manny says:

    Calling it a fire safety issue is assinine and detracting from the real issue: training and proper gear. Shouldn’t a soldier be wearing an FR glove with a gauntlet and have the sleeve cuff tucked into the gauntlet? This would “prevent flames from traveling inside the sleeve in an IED event or fire.”

  5. Old Paratrooper says:

    I think Doc’s point is that he wants to do what he wants, uniformity be damned. What is really disturbing about his comments is that he claims to be a “doc” or medic and doesn’t seem to give a care about whether or not troops are protected.

    The Army gives you the tools. It is up to personal discipline and leadership to enforce the standard to use the tools properly.

  6. Mac says:

    I think the Army’s big issue with Multicam is that it would have to admit it was wrong across the board with UCP. The major downside to not switching to Multicam is going to be the cost of repeating tests that were already done in Afghanistan as well as reseting the equipment to produce TA50 in whatever new pattern(s) the Army chooses. Meanwhile the Army is already producing nearly all, if not all, of the TA50 in Multicam as OCP. It would be so much more efficient and effective to adopt Multicam as this “transitional” pattern they’re looking for, then develop AO specific patterns. So much for being frugal in an era of dwindling budgets.

  7. Administrator says:

    Mac, you have hit the nail on the head.

  8. Strike-Hold! says:

    The fact that the Army is looking for new patterns and that UCP is not even included among the benchmark patterns in the testing says “we got it all horribly wrong” in itself…

  9. Administrator says:

    I don’t think UCP is even an equation in Camo discussions anymore. At this point, the question is, “what is the proper path forward?”

  10. straps says:

    This deal is telling on many levels.

    Good on SMA Chandler for showing himself as a leader. Not enough SNCOs do. Of course, this will open the door for the odd knucklehead to speak out of turn and step on his crank. No disrespect intended to the editor/author, but I’m thinking that SMA Chandler can play hardball at briefings–and I’m glad there was SOMEONE in the room familiar enough with the policy, the culture and the issue to engage him constructively. I’ve watched the military slimes writers lapdog these guys to protect that small universe of sources with good scoop…

    Fact of the matter is it was strong NCOs–working INSIDE and OUTSIDE formal channels who pushed back on UCP, it was strong NCOs working INSIDE and OUTSIDE the channels who pushed back on the ACU bogusness. Credit where credit is due, I worked for an O-6 who went toe-to-toe with a 2-star on the berets, but hey, the coordinated efforts of leadership teams is good too, yes?

    And it will be up to NCO leaders to get the implementation right. Like sleeves. Personally, I like the velcro cuffs. We bitched about how hot the blouse was (and started going outside the gate for our own Combat Shirts), the Army got the Combat Shirt pretty much perfect (improving on the Crye design even). The difference between a minor measure of comfort vs. wire-brushing scrched flesh is kind of a no brainer. I was velcro-ing teh cuffs aircrew style on my field BDUs back when we had to do the camo netting. What, you say? We won’t be camo-ing vehicles because (a) we move too fast and (b) we have total air superiority? Point (a) GP forces do NOT move that fast and to (b) you can build a recon UAV for a couple hundred bucks.

    Far as Multicam, it’s ironic that UCP lost the last competition but in the end was adopted as a service-branding initiative.

  11. Administrator says:

    Straps, great feedback, but please remember, UCP wasn’t tested until AFTER it was adopted.

  12. straps says:

    Oops…

    Far as Multicam, it’s ironic that UCP lost the last competition but in the end was adopted as a service-branding initiative.

    Then a bunch of dudes (yeah, dudes, mostly) in the field said nope, we’ll brand ourselves as hoplite gunfighters–with Multicam, thank you very much. Much more sustainable–for the force and the fight–than improvisation like running around with mop & glo on our boots…

  13. straps says:

    @Admin I thought there was a test that included UCP but that the signtaure-blocked paper trail closing the loop on selection was “misplaced.”

    I stand corrected if I’ve gotten the history wrong. Either way an expensive boondoggle, in blood and treasure.

  14. Doc says:

    Well after two deployments both of which I was in trucks just as much as I was on the ground we weren’t told once that cuffs were supposed to be closed to protect your arms. Also as far as FR goes all that FR stuff is crap just like soft Kevlar, as a medic I have had the oh so wonderful pleasure of seeing guys with FR uniforms still get burned all over and guys wearing full blown IBAs/IOTVs with all the soft Kevlar pieces still get peppered to hell with schrapnel. So just because the army says to do it and that it makes you safer, doesn’t make it the best answer. I could go on for hours about crap the army issues and how it is just that…….crap.

  15. Old Paratrooper says:

    Ok, so what’s the best answer?

  16. Doc says:

    Well if I had my choice I wouldnt be covering every soldier that is in Afghanistan in fragile FR uniforms that don’t survive more than a month, contrary to popular belief not every soldier rides around in an MRAP (dont even get me started on those RPG death traps, ambush resistant my ass) hell I didnt even ride in an MRAP until I got called down to our main FOB after Keating got hit. And that was almost 5 months into the deployment and my uniforms were shredded from all the dismounted missions I had to do. And one of our medics was severly burned even though he was wearing a FR uniform. As far as soft Kevlar goes, get rid of it as a stand alone piece of armor, anything that can cause significant injury as far as shrapnel goes will go straight through that soft Kevlar, soft Kevlar is great for padding behind the plates that actually do all the work. So just go to a plate carrier and that’s it, but a dam cummerbund for that POS soldiers plate carrier has gotta happen. And so we come back to the original problem at had and that is Velcro, and Flame Resistance, I say if your primary mission is to ride around in vehicles then fine go with FR but get those Nomex material ones we had to start off with, they worked and were way more durable. And if your mission is primarily dismount then go with a 50/50 blend or a 70/30 blend standard ACU cut uniform with Velcro for patches and for the middle with the zipper and buttons for all the pockets. So you can maintain silence when necessary. Any other questions?

  17. Administrator says:

    Doc,

    Please don’t take this personally but you don’t know a thing about materials and I’m not sure what you are doing digging around in your ACU pockets when bad guys are in earshot anyway. I do however appreciate your passion. Please take the time to start to learn about your equipment and why it is made the way it is and from what it is.

    The Editor

  18. Doc says:

    All I do know is I’ve worn the FR uniforms in combat and they suck if you know of a better material blend other than 50/50 or 70/30 which I have worn (50/50 standard acus in Iraq & 70/30 twill test uniforms in Afghanistan) then by all means point me in the right direction and I will read up on it. And when your on an SKT noise dicipline is really hard to maintain when ripping open Velcro pockets, when your in an almost completely silient valley you can hear those pockets open up from a decent distance away.

  19. Administrator says:

    The FR ACU material blend known as Tencate Defender-M is by far superior to 50/50 NYCO for reducing the risk of burn injuries. However, FR does not mean fire proof. It mitigates the risk. So does Kevlar mitigate the risk of ballistic injury. Nether are going to provide you with a 100% solution.

    If the standard materials were FR then the Army, Air Force, and Marines wouldn’t spend all of that money on FR uniforms.

  20. docrock says:

    Doc, can’t take out the soft armor from the plate carriers, the ESAPIs are rated WITH the soft armor behind them, no soft armor no level III protection. Agree on the piece of shit plate carrier, get rid of it for something like the Marines have with an actual functioning cummerbund that doesn’t leave big ass gaps on the sides.

  21. Ropiset says:

    Let’s face the obvious, OCP is a nonstarter for general issue for political reasons. If the army were to start general issue of OCP now, after spending $5 billion on the noncamouflage camouflage, someone who has control of the purse-strings might ask uncomfortable questions about the missed opportunity to adopt OCP way back in 2004. Now with this whole effort for a new camouflage, the army can continue to spend money like a drunken sailor (no offense to drunken sailors) to fix a self inflicted problem that it spent a lot of money to inflict on itself to begin with. On a side note; UCP has been a godsend to SFQC instructors because it is impossible to lose a student while they are wearing ACU’s.

  22. Doc says:

    Well if the nomex uniforms didnt work as good as the FR ACUs they are issuing now, then why are mechanics, fuelers, and aircraft support personnel still getting issued the nomex uniforms and getting told that they are getting them due to superior FR. And yes I know you need the soft Kevlar to back most of the ESAPIs that are out there I wasn’t saying get rid of that but get rid of all the soft Kevlar that makes up all the bulk in the IOTV around the shoulder straps, the neck and throat guards, and groin guards oh and the ridiculous butt flap and nape pad that makes it almost impossible to shot in the prone with it on. The soft Kevlar is supposed to stop shrapnel from frag and unfortunately it doesn’t, many of our guys have gotten shrapnel wounds in their necks, balls, flanks that went right through the Kevlar like butter. They were fine, but many of they wish they had less armor on so they could have gotten to better cover quicker.

    • Administrator says:

      They get Nomex because that is what is used in their clothing. Nomex by itself is not durable enough for field wear. If you complain about the durability of Defender-M, you would lose your mind over a Nomex field uniform.

  23. Bill Buppert says:

    On a tangential issue concerning the camo pattern for TA50, we may see that if the Army decides to have more than one pattern adopted across the force, one should look at the advantage of monochromatic color schemes like nutria or coyote or dark earth for kit. The lighter hue of Army desert boots as opposed to USMC “slightly darker”issue boots makes it wearable for Marines in either mufti they are currently issued.

    There is certainly room for discussion for body armor, plate carriers and LBV/chest rigs and whether they should be mated to the scheme of the ACU (regardless of camo selection) or mono in tone.

    UCP is what happens when soldiers have no input for bottom-up reviews and decisions are taken where budget drives the operational picture instead of combat needs. The Admin pointed out that the review occurred AFTER adoption.The ALICE pack is a great demonstration project in getting what you pay for when you ignore the epicenter of “backpacking knowledge” in the universe (Berkeley, CA) because they are hippies and know nothing of load-bearing over long distances. Right.

    • Administrator says:

      Bill,

      The testing conducted in Afghanistan indicated that monochromatic field gear (IOTV in particular) actually highlighted the Soldiers used as test subjects.

  24. Doc says:

    Mr administrator I’m not trying to fight with you. But the nomex suits our gunners and drivers got issued worked great and lasted fine for over 8 months and they only got issued two sets. Our four sets of Defender-M FR ACUs hardly last more than a month. Look if they wanna issue them to guys who mainly patrol or work in/outta trucks then fine give them the FR ACUs and they can just order a bunch of replacement ones off ADO like we did. But for guys who are living in COPs and OPs and their lives revolve around walking then they need something more durable and it doesn’t need to be FR last time I checked nobody is getting caught on fire by bullets.