Morale: The Aquaflage Nightmare Has Finally Ended

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January 10, 2017: In mid-2016 the U.S. Navy finally decided to replace its new (since 2010) blue pattern camouflage pattern work uniforms with newer and improved (by popular demand) ones. At the end of 2016 the navy announced that the new uniform would be the NWU Type III (green and tan) already used by NECC (Navy Expeditionary Combat Command) since 2010. NECC is the new ground combat force the navy formed in 2006, staffed by 40,000 sailors. NECC required a more familiar camo uniform because they operate along the coast and up rivers, as well as further inland. NECC units served in Iraq and are ready to deploy anywhere else they are needed. The 1,200 sailors in the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams are particularly sought after, because of increased use of roadside bombs and booby traps by the enemy. NECC organized three Riverine Squadrons which served in Iraq. NECC basically consists of most of the combat support units the navy has traditionally put ashore, plus some coastal and river patrol units that have usually only been organized in wartime. NECC needed a camo pattern that would work ashore and not look radically different from what other American ground troops were using. NWU is practical for when ship crews have to go ashore for an emergency and is not an embarrassment to wear, as was the old blue camo pattern work uniform.

More importantly the new work uniforms are more fireproof and better able to handle heat when not burning. The original camouflage pattern work uniforms turned out to burn a lot faster than expected and cause more injuries to the wearer in the process. Even when not on fire the old uniforms did not “breathe” and were stifling in hot weather or the often very hot conditions often encountered below decks.

When first forced to use the blue pattern camo work clothes back in 2010 U.S. Navy sailors thought their new work uniform was mainly silly. It consisted of shirt and pants in a gray, blue (mainly) and black camouflage pattern. Most sailors wear the work uniform while on a ship. What's the point of camouflage there? This has at least led to some entertaining humor. For example, sailors called the new camouflage "Aquaflage" and tried to find some purpose in it. Some believed it was a safety measure, since if you fell overboard while wearing it there was little chance you'd ever be seen in the water, so there was no need to turn the ship around to try and find you. Along those lines, some believed that if you fell overboard, the aquaflage would make it more difficult for any sharks to spot you. Actually, sharks detect prey via smell, not sight, but no matter, it was better to laugh about this blue clothing nightmare rather that look hard and cry.

There was more to cry over. Aquaflage came along mainly because of the herd instinct at the top. Since 2001 all the services had gotten new camouflage uniforms, or gotten them for the first time. Even the air force had a blue type camouflage pattern. The admirals felt compelled to replace the traditional (and popular) dungarees and blue work shirt with the much less popular aquaflage. For more formal occasions, junior enlisted sailors were still allowed to wear a khaki shirt and black pants (an arrangement the U.S. Marine Corps has made famous). The navy "dress blues" remained unchanged.

After aquaflage was introduced the navy brass, bowing to loud and sustained complaints, agreed to allow sailors living off base, on their way home from work, to get out of their vehicles to perform short errands (picking up dry cleaning, groceries, day care, and so on), while wearing the new navy work uniform. Prior to this, navy personnel were forbidden from leaving their vehicles while outside the base if they were wearing the work uniform. While sailors appreciated being allowed to get out of their cars on the way home work, most would prefer to do it while wearing the traditional dungarees and blue work shirt rather than the cartoonish aquaflage.

When sailors encountered the heat and burn risk problems with the new uniforms it was no longer a laughing matter and the navy had to pay attention and came up with a new work uniform in record time. The new work uniform will be mandatory for everyone by 2018 and already members of NECC are complaining that stocks of NWU Type III have been quickly depleted since the late 2016 announcement. That helps senior admirals appreciate that they did the right thing by killing off aquaflage.

 

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