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combat pants

Army Combat Uniform

The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) is the current combat uniform worn by the United States Army. It is the successor to the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) worn during the 1980s and 1990s. It features a number of design changes, as well as a different camouflage pattern from its predecessor. The ACU and its component materials are manufactured by the existing industrial infrastructure which produced the now-obsolete BDU.

Universal Camouflage Pattern

The ACU uses a new military camouflage pattern called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which blends green, tan, and gray to work effectively in desert, and urban environments. Similar to the United States Marine Corps MARPAT and Canadian CADPAT camouflage schemes that preceded it, the pattern design is based on research into Dual Texture (Dual-Tex) Camouflage conducted in the 1970s.

The color scheme of the Army Combat Uniform is composed of a slate gray, desert sand and foliage green digital pattern. The color black was omitted from the uniform because it is not commonly found in nature. Pure black, when viewed through night vision goggles, appears excessively dark and creates an undesirable high-contrast image. In combat, the gray would tend to match the environment after use; for example, dust could cover up the gray. Gray is also a neutral color and thus does not tend to catch the eye as more saturated colors would. Body armor has been made to match the camouflage. The ACU's blend in extremely well in tan grassy fields and are almost impossible to spot more than 50 feet away even if the person wearing the ACU's is in the direct line of sight of the spotter.

The ACU

Soldiers have reported that the nylon cotton fabric does breathe better than the cotton Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCUs) and results in a cooler uniform in high temperature climates.

The uniform features hook and pile fasteners on the pockets. Although some concern has been expressed that the noise associated with opening Velcro fasteners would give away a soldier's position in the field, this has been determined to be a minor issue that can be negated with correct noise discipline.

The cost to each soldier is $76 per uniform, compared to $58 for a BDU, but clothing allowances in soldiers' pay have been adjusted to compensate for the more expensive uniform. All insignia is at an extra cost, as are name tapes and branch tapes.

ACU material has the feature of being less visible in infrared, due to the lack of black color.

Jacket

The ACU jacket uses Velcro-backed attachments to secure items such as name tapes, rank insignia, and shoulder patches and tabs, as well as recognition devices such as the American flag patch and the infrared (IR) tab.

Near Infrared (NIR) Signature Management Technology is incorporated to minimize the infrared silhouette. Permanent IR IFF squares are sewn to each shoulder to help identify friendly personnel when night vision devices are used, and are protected by Velcro tabs in garrison or when not in use.

Three US flag insignia are authorized for wear with the ACU: full-color, full-color IR, and subdued IR. The US flag insignia (full-color or subdued) is worn on the right shoulder pocket flap of the ACU coat. The subdued version is only worn as directed under tactical or or field conditions only. On the ACU, the US flag is depicted with the union (stars) to the viewer's right, instead of the usual left (flag's own right); this is to give the impression of the flag moving forward with the wearer. Subdued shoulder sleeve insignia are always worn.

The jacket's Mandarin collar is worn up in combat to fit with the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) body armor, and worn in the down position otherwise. The front closure is zippered and reinforced with velcro, designed for use with OTV. The tilted chest pockets, cuffs, and elbow pad insert pockets also utilize hook-and-loop closure. There is a three slot pen pocket on the left arm of the jacket, and blouse bellows for increased mobility.

Only pin-on skills badges are authorized for wear on the ACU, and no more than 3 may be worn at any one time. Skills tabs, such as the President's Hundred Tab, Ranger, Sapper, and Special Forces, are worn on the left sleeve pocket flap, and are also subject to a 3-tab-only rule. A tab that is an integral part of a unit patch, such as the "mountain" or "airborne" tab, is not counted against the rule. The U.S. Army Chaplaincy insignia is the only authorized branch insignia to be worn on the ACU. It is centered 1/8 inch above the right name tape. The insignia must be pinned on, not sewn on.

The jacket must not extend below the top of the cargo pocket and must not be higher than the bottom of the side pocket. Sleeves will be worn down at all times, in contrast with the earlier Army BDU policy which authorized sleeve-folding for the summer uniform.

In the field, the jacket may be replaced by the flame resistant Army Combat Shirt when worn directly under the IOTV.

Field Jacket

The M65 Jacket comes in the ACU pattern. There are no shoulder boards, unlike the BDU field jacket. All four front pockets are kept, velcro patches were added to the sleeves and front. The jacket has an optional foliage green liner.

Trouser

The ACU trouser is worn with a two-inch nylon web belt (Rigger's Belt), and features Velcro pouches for knee pad inserts, two forward-tilted thigh storage pockets with elastic drawstring and Velcro for closure during movement, and two calf storage pockets one on each pant leg with a Velcro closure. In addition, the pants legs can be bloused and must not extend past the third eyelet of the boots as per AR 670-1. Army Combat Pants, which are identical to the ACU trousers except for their flame resistant materials, are being issued for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Headwear

In the field, the ACU is worn with the MICH TC-2000 Combat Helmet, a patrol cap, or a boonie hat as appropriate. In garrison, the maroon paratrooper, tan United States Army Rangers, green United States Army Special Forces or black conventional unit beret or patrol cap is worn. The patrol cap is a straight-sided, flat-topped soft cap, with a double thick bill and internal pocket. The nametape is worn on the back of the patrol cap. Sew-on rank is recommended but pin-on rank is authorized on the ACU Patrol Cap and ACU Boonie Hat. The MICH (Modular Integrated Communications Helmet) Camouflage cover rank must be sewn on if worn but is often not used as the Night Vision Device mount would obstruct it.

T-Shirt

The ACU is worn with a moisture-wicking sand colored T-shirt. A Foliage Green T-shirt, which is 100% cotton, has been authorized for wear by select soldiers.

Footwear

The ACU is worn with tan rough-out combat boots and moisture wicking socks. Commercial versions of this boot are authorized without limitation other than they must be at least 8 inches in height and are no longer authorized to have a 'shoe-like' appearance.

Uniform care

Although common practice (though not required by regulation) with the BDUs, ACUs are not to be starched. As per the ALARACT message in effect until a new revision of AR 670-1 is released, "Soldiers will not starch the Army Combat Uniform under any circumstances. The use of starch, sizing, and any process that involves dry-cleaning or steam press will adversely affect the treatments and durability of the uniform and is not authorized."

Starching the uniform has been shown to cause discoloration. It enhances the IR signature, making the uniform brighter when viewed with night vision goggles.

In the past, personnel have been instructed that the uniform must be washed with a mild detergent that does not contain "optical brighteners." Detergents with optical brighteners may cause discoloration of the uniform, which would nullify the purpose of the very specific camouflage design and result in possible unwanted detection of personnel using the uniforms in combat. Some detergents have phosphorescent properties which enhance an enemy's ability to see the soldier when viewed with Night Vision Devices. However, these instructions have been retracted.

Soldiers have expressed concern about the velcro on the ACU. Dirt and mud can clog the hooks and loops or they can wear out with use, requiring the use of cleaning brushes for clearing the velcro as part of daily maintenance. Zippers have also been a topic of concern. Soldiers also express concern because the zippers (as with any zipper) can bind up, and render the uniform uncomfortable to wear, especially with Body Armor. According to the Program Executive Office Soldier "Commercial Velcro will be sold in clothing sales for the repair/replacement of Velcro. Additionally soldiers have been using the small weapons cleaning brush to clean out any sand and dirt from the pile and it has been working very well."

Initial fielding

The process of replacing the Army's Woodland (in use since 1982) and Three Color Desert pattern BDU with the ACU was to begin in April 2005; however, the process began two months earlier through the Rapid Fielding Initiative. Soldiers from the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were the first Army unit, active or reserve, to receive the ACU, subsequently deploying the entire Brigade into OIF combat in May 2005. Initial reception of the ACU was mixed, with complaints of insufficient durability and excessive maintenance. The use of multiple camouflage patterns within an organization is now seldom seen, as the ACU has been widely fielded.

Criticisms of the ACU

A continuing criticism of the ACU, in common with the previous Army BDU, is the use of a general-purpose uniform for varying environments and conditions as a consequence of cost and durability factors. A primary concern is the issue of a single pattern combat uniform for use in all environments, a concept similar to use of the older solid olive drab uniform issued years earlier. The history of visual camouflage clothing, whether civilian or military, has repeatedly shown a need to approximate the hues and shades of a particular and specific environment or background to avoid detection; it remains to be seen whether a 'one-color-fits-all' approach will succeed on the battlefield, particularly at close ranges.

Weight of the ACU, like the BDU, has also come in for criticism. The ACU has numerous uniform reinforcement panels and the large number of oversized pockets, utilized primarily for reasons of durability and convenience, tend to increase heat and perspiration retention in hot-weather environments, increasing the risk of skin disease and skin inflammations in humid environments. Triple thicknesses of cloth at the thigh, the result of overlapping pocket panels, combined with overhang of the combat jacket result in additional retention of body heat. The extra cloth material tends to negate some of the evaporative benefits of the open-weave cloth construction; the problem is compounded when pockets are filled with miscellaneous items. In comparison with the already-heavy BDU, the ACU is even heavier, having been designed with heavier thread, more fabric in the seams, and stronger stitches, combined with hook-and-loop tape sections and barrel-lock closures to secure some pockets. In humid regions, the carrying of large amount of gear in trouser and shirt pockets is generally unknown among other uniformed military forces, as the practice retains excessive body heat and promotes corrosion of carried items through perspiration. Instead, gear is carried on suspended slings, attached to a accessory load belt, or carried in backpacks.

The open-weave construction of the ACU, BDU, and similar uniforms is easily penetrated by insect stingers and probosces, causing an increased risk of transmitted diseases such as malaria, even when pretreated with permethrin or other repellent. Since World War II, the U.S. military has been aware of issues with loosely-woven fabrics and open-smock combat jackets in tropical and jungle environments, and issued a tightly woven Byrd Cloth tropical uniform of single-layer Egyptian cotton for jungle troops in 1943.

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