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House panel votes in favor of common combat uniform across services

Jun. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Congress took a significant step toward ordering the military to adopt joint camouflage uniforms on June 5. Pictured: Military personnel listen to Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia in 2012.
Congress took a significant step toward ordering the military to adopt joint camouflage uniforms on June 5. Pictured: Military personnel listen to Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia in 2012. (Master Sgt. Terrence L. Hayes/U.S. Army)
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Two war veterans succeeded Wednesday in convincing the House Armed Services Committee that the services should agree on common camouflage patterns for uniforms rather than each having its own.

Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Ill., a retired major general and Vietnam veteran who has served in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Army National Guard before retiring in 2012 to run for Congress, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Iraq war veteran who still serves in the Illinois National Guard, combined efforts on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring — with a few exceptions — the services to have a joint combat uniform.

The measure passed by a 32-30 vote.

The exceptions may be enough to overcome service opposition, said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who heads the armed services committee panel that is responsible for clothing purchases. He warned, however, that there could be a temporary increase in uniform costs as a common combat uniform is adopted.

Ten camouflage uniforms are in use today and more are being developed; lawmakers think that is more than enough.

For several years, the Government Accountability Office has questioned the inability of the services to share camouflage designs to save money.

“The primary goal of camouflage is to reduce vulnerability of forces to detection in combat; however, over time the services also have chosen camouflage patterns that are service specific and distinguish one service from another,” the nonpartisan GAO said in a September report to Congress.

The only disparaging word on the amendment came from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who has served in the Army and Marine Corps. He said the potential savings would be small and perhaps not worth the complaints and potential harm to morale.

The amendment, approved as part of HR 1960, the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, would prohibit the services from adopting any new combat uniform unless it will be a joint uniform item shared by all of the services or unless the design is already in use by another service.

Exempted would be items such as headwear and footwear. The provision also would not apply to combat and camouflage uniforms for use by special operations forces.

There also is a waiver for “exceptional operating circumstances,” to be determined by the defense secretary.

The prohibition would not take full effect until 2018. Within 180 days of the bill becoming law, the services would be required to issue new guidance requiring joint criteria for design, development and fielding of camouflage uniforms. By Oct. 1, 2018, the services could be required to use a joint combat camouflage uniform.

Under this policy, different uniforms could be designed for geographic or operational requirements of combatant commands, so there could be regional differences.

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