The Washington Post

Illinois Democrat proposes to cut down on military camouflage duplication

FILE: Col. John Norwood, right, is dressed in the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), which features a digital, universal camouflage pattern. (STEPHEN MORTON/AP)

A Democrat in Congress says he will propose a measure Wednesday to cut down on duplication in the U.S. military’s camouflage uniforms — requiring the services to share one camouflage pattern, instead of the 10 in use now.

Rep. William L. Enyart, an Illinois freshman, said he thought of the idea after reading an article in The Washington Post last month.

The Post story detailed how, before 2002, all branches of the military shared the same two patterns: a green one for the woods and a brown one for the desert. But since then, individual services have produced their own patterns, with varying degrees of success. The Air Force, for instance, created the “Airman Battle Uniform,” but then decided it was not a good idea for airmen in Afghanistan to wear it in battle. They wear Army camouflage instead.

“Congress needs to exercise its oversight to make sure we don’t do silly things,” Enyart said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Enyart said he will offer his measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House Armed Services Committee will mark up on Wednesday.

The U.S. military's changing camouflage

He said the amendment would require the Pentagon to produce a joint camouflage uniform — to be shared by all services — by 2018. Enyart said the joint uniform could vary for different environments, with patterns meant for woods and desert.

In the meantime, Enyart said his measure would prohibit any service from creating its own new camouflage uniform, unless it was intended to be shared.

“This is just an example of waste and redundancy that we just can’t afford,” Enyart said.

The amendment’s prospects are unclear. On Tuesday, a spokesman for Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, said he could not comment on the amendment before it had been introduced.

Enyart has worn several types of camouflage: He served in the Air Force from 1969 to 1973, and then in the Illinois Army National Guard from 1982 to 2012. He retired last year as a general.

That meant he wore one of the least popular of the 10 designs in use now: the Army’s “universal” camouflage, which was introduced in 2003. It turned out not to be universal, and the Army spent $2.9 million to produce another pattern for use in Afghanistan.

Enyart said that uniform had another problem. He said its many Velcro strips could cause trouble: “You brush up against somebody, you stick to each other!

“I’m retired now — I can say this: It was a silly design,” he said.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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