November 22, 2010:
Over the past seven years, the U.S. Army has responded to complaints from the troops about the combat uniform (ACU, or ACUPAT, for Army Combat Uniform camouflage pattern). But now the army is fixing a set of problems that have long been ignored; how the ACU fits women. Up to fifteen percent of the troops in combat zones are women, and the new uniform recognizes this. The older ACU just assumed female troops were one of the guys, which they are not. Women have a different shape, and that is very true when it comes to ACUs, and their placement of the waistline, many pockets and pouches for things like knee pads. What worked for the male body, did not work for female troops. Everything was just a little bit (or a lot) off, making the ACU much less comfortable for women doing the same jobs as the guys. So the army simply designed an ACU version based on the shape of the female body. The first prototypes were given to women to try out, and after a few hours, all the female troops asked where they could buy some more of them. Unfortunately, the female ACU won't be available for another two years. Lots of additional tests have to be performed to make sure all the details are correctly incorporated.
Meanwhile, the army has continued to make small improvements in its combat uniform. The army has a web site where troops can report problems, and suggest improvements, for the ACUPAT, and there's been a lot of traffic over the last five years (including ones about a female ACU). Most of the changes suggested may seem minor, but they mean a lot to troops in combat. For example, the number and placement of pockets is always a popular item. This has been changed several times, and now complements the protective vest, and the kind of stuff troops put in the pockets. Then there's the monochrome American flag patch, attached via Velcro, that reacts to infrared light. This makes it easier to positively identify U.S. troops at night, without lighting up the area. There are several other Velcro strips for the attachment of patches and badges. Most of the pockets are closed with Velcro. The knee pads, which greatly reduce knee injuries for infantry, are now inserted in a pants pocket over the knees. Other changes involve the blouse collar ("Chinese" style, to keep crud out) and the closures on the blouse and pants cuffs (also to keep debris out.)
In combat, troops go through ACUPATs quickly (often after only a week of heavy combat), so the army is constantly ordering new ones. With the rapid feedback via the army website, and ACUPAT manufacturers ready to make changes quickly, troops often see suggestions they made at the beginning of their Iraq tour, incorporated in ACUPATs they receive near the end. This not only makes for a better combat uniform, but does wonders for morale as well.