Sgt. Nathaniel McGinness leads a squad of Marines on patrol in Garmshir, Afghanistan, last year while wearing Flame Resistant Organizational Gear. The Corps is rolling out more durable flame-resistant cammies. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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The Marine Corps soon will begin issuing deploying Marines improved flame-resistant uniforms to address long-standing concerns over durability, comfort, and compatibility with body armor.
Called the Enhanced Flame Resistant Combat Ensemble, the new uniforms will be an update to the Flame Resistant Organizational Gear first issued in 2007 to protect Marines from flash burns like those inflicted by the intense heat from improvised explosive devices. They will incorporate both woodland and desert Marine Pattern designs, reinforced fabric to resist tears, more camouflage coverage, and additional pockets to organize gear.
Fielding could start within a year, but officials with Marine Corps Systems Command would not provide an exact timeline, saying distribution to Marines could be influenced by several variables.
"Fielding is predicated on contract award, production ability, and first article testing to ensure a suitable product is provided to Marines," Capt. Nicole Fiedler, a spokeswoman for MARCORSYSCOM, wrote in an email to Marine Corps Times.
In a January notice to the defense industry, Marine officials said the eventual contract will call for delivery of 76,000 pairs of trousers and blouses a year. Final industry proposals are due to the Corps in early March. Delivery of at least the first 76,000 is expected within 12 months of a contract award.
The Marine Corps intends to order up to 304,000 new uniforms over four years.
Initial plans called for fielding to begin in 2012, but delays set in as officials worked to validate new design concepts and improve fabrics, Fiedler said. The search for better materials began after the uniforms, designed to withstand a year of hard service, began ripping, sometimes after just three months of use in Afghanistan. Officials have sought a uniform that would protect Marines from fire and hold up during the rustic living that can be common for many Marines during a deployment.
Here's an overview of what's changing:
Tougher fabric. In Afghanistan, Marines have put their gear through some intense punishment, hopping in and out of canals. When FROG uniforms become caked in sweat and muck, then hand-washed and hang-dried repeatedly, their fabric becomes brittle.
One common problem, large tears in the crotch, presented particular difficulties as Marines tried to interact with Afghans, whose society places a premium on modesty and respect. The updated uniforms will include reinforced seats and crotches that feature extra fabric to improve comfort, mobility and resist ripping.
More camouflage covering. Outwardly, the new ensemble will look similar to the old one. The biggest visual difference will be additional camouflage coverage on the chest, which is meant to integrate better with body armor and provide more flame-resistant protection.
FROG's existing blouse, which looks more like a long-sleeve shirt with a zip-up collar, leaves large areas of a Marine's torso exposed when worn with a Scalable Plate Carrier. SPCs were designed for hot climates and high-speed missions, and provide less coverage overall. That could be a problem around fire.
Initailly, the FROG blouse was designed to be worn with bulkier body armor, like the Modular Tactical Vest. In addition to carrying ballistic plates, the MTV provides extensive fragmentation protection. When MTVs are worn with existing FROG blouses, Marines are optimally protected from the threat of flames, and the soft T-shirt-like area covered by the vest keeps them cooler, drier and mitigates friction that results in chaffing and blisters.
The updated blouse will still have that soft, cool fabric — just less of it.
More pockets. Based on designs MARCORSYSCOM provided the defense industry, it appears the new blouses and trousers will incorporate additional pockets. Final specifications and uniform patterns will be released in early February, but significant changes were evident in the Corps' sketches.
The trousers, for instance, will incorporate two small new pockets on the front of the thighs that adjoin larger, standard cargo pockets on the outside of the leg. They will provide additional space to stow items Marines access regularly while on the move — small tools, for example. In 2011, officials said those additional pockets were "not well received" by Marines who participated in early wear-testing.
"The current garment design to include pockets has been verified and validated utilizing input from Marines," Fiedler said in her email. "The latest design elements were validated and testing was completed with the Marines at the School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, Calif."
Additionally, Marines will have a secure pouch in the back of their trousers on their left hip to store important materials. It could hold a military ID, for example. Also, there's a new pen pocket on the left arm between the elbow and wrist, a feature Army personnel have had on their uniforms for years.
Insect repellent. Beyond the design updates, the new uniforms will be treated with permethrin to repel bugs. Already used on current uniforms, the chemical treatment is also used to treat timber, in agriculture and in flea collars. It should provide protection at a minimum for more than 20 washes, according to documents.