By Phil Hecken, with Hugh McBride
When we think of “uniforms” on Uni Watch, for obvious reasons, we think of sports uniforms, but of course, these are not the only uniforms that exist in the universe. Indeed, in the overall scheme of things, they probably comprise only a small faction of the various vocations and avocations which require uniform use. But of course, the non-sports variety can be both interesting and boring, monochromatic, seasonal, striped, collared, flame retardant, revealing, ornamental or even probational. But they’re all uniforms.
Earlier this week, I was approached by reader Hugh McBride, who propositioned me with a very interesting non-sports uniform topic: military uniforms, and specifically, camouflage. As you’ll note below, Paul has already undertaken a very thorough exploration of camo in sports, but we rarely get a look at camo in the armed forces. What follows is a really interesting and fascinating look at those.
Hugh isn’t just a reader, he’s also an award-winning writer, editor & photographer whose words and images have been featured in a variety of online and print publications throughout the United States and Europe (check out his bio).
So sit back, and enjoy a really thorough, well-researched and superbly written look at camouflage in places other than the San Diego Padres lockers.
For Some Squads, Camo is the Only Way to Go
By Hugh C. McBride
Once upon a time in the United States, seeing a famous athlete in a military uniform wasn’t all that out of the ordinary. With one noteworthy exception, though, the only time most of today’s younger fans have seen sports standouts swap jerseys for fatigues was when the Miami Hurricanes arrived in Arizona for the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
As Uni Watch has documented time and again, more than two decades after the ‘Canes’ infamous sartorial abomination, camouflage has made many (almost universally unfortunate) appearances on baseball diamonds, hockey rinks, football fields, soccer pitches and souvenir stores throughout the nation.
Greater voices than mine have already weighed in on the aesthetic offensiveness of this trend. But I thought that members of the uni-watching world would be interested to note that while many sports squads continue to adopt a woodland camouflage pattern, this look is being abandoned by the biggest and baddest team of ‘em all: the U.S. military itself.
There are no plans for Sunday alternates — and there’s thankfully been no serious debate about adding logos or sponsors — but like their sporting counterparts, the uniforms worn by the men and women of the U.S. military have a history of evolving, both to enhance functionality and to identify the allegiance of the wearer.
Say the words “military combat uniform” to most Americans and odds are they’ll conjure up a mental image of something close to either this or this. (A few might unfortunately think of this or this — which serves as proof that Cpl. Klinger isn’t the uniform world’s most memorable military joke.)
But just as Jeeps have given way to Humvees and walkie-talkies have been superseded by satellite-supported communication systems, so, too, have military combat uniforms been upgraded in the digital age.
[Note: With each branch having a range of uniforms for various events, activities and missions, some service members may have more unis than even these guys. This article will only attempt to address the evolution of standard utility uniforms over the past 20 years.]
One for All (Almost)
From 1981 through 2001, U.S. service members wore a standard battle dress uniform (BDU) with the M81 Woodland pattern. As detailed on the Wikipedia page devoted to this uniform, the woodland BDU was a four-color (dark green, light green, brown and black) cotton-nylon uniform.
In order to differentiate among the individual services, the BDUs featured sewn-on service signifiers over the left chest pocket. Other service-specific “customizations” included the Marines’ 8-point cover, the Army’s collar-based enlisted rank and, starting in 2001, the Army’s somewhat-controversial black beret.
Desert Storm Inspires New “Away” Unis
When U.S. troops were deployed to the Persian Gulf area in 1990 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, they were outfitted in sand-brown desert combat uniforms (DCUs, in military parlance). As with the BDUs, the DCUs were worn by soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, with individual services identified over the left chest pocket and via headwear and rank insignia location.
The Marines Go Digital
The first branch to break away from the standard woodland pattern was the Marine Corps, which debuted a pixilated pattern known as MARPAT when it began issuing its new Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (in both woodland and desert shades) in 2002. In addition to its distinctive design, the MCCUU also featured a number of functional upgrades.
The Army Follows Suit (Sorta)
Once the Marines opened the digitized floodgates, it wasn’t long before their Army counterparts followed suit. Soldiers got their first official look at the Army Combat Uniform during a July 14, 2004 “Army Birthday” ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Changes from the BDU to the ACU include a distinctive design pattern, rank insignias place mid-chest rather than on the collar, and lots of Velcro. (Though just this week, the Army announced that buttons will making a comeback on ACU pants.)
As the Marines did, the Army abandoned the standard black boot for a no-need-to-shine variety. Also, the ACU comes in only one color, instead of the two (woodland and desert) versions of the BDU.
Those who cringed at the sight of these, these and these should be heartened to hear that Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Myhre, the Clothing and Individual Equipment noncommissioned officer in charge, told Army News that the new ACU design does not include black because “ … it is not a color commonly found in nature. The drawback to black is that its color immediately catches the eye.”
Tiger Stripes in the Sky
The third branch to introduce redesigned combat unis was the Air Force, which hopped on the digital bandwagon with what may be the military’s first “throwbacks.” The Airman Battle Uniform features a tiger-stripe design inspired in part by Vietnam-era attire.
Proving that passionate uni-watchers can influence even military brass (and that there may yet be hope for certain fans in southern Ohio), the Air Force abandoned the original color scheme for the prototype tiger-striped ABU after the uniforms were roundly denounced during the wear-testing phase.
The ABU is still in the phase-in process, with airmen authorized to wear either ABUs or BDUs until Oct. 1, 2011, when the force will be totally tiger-striped.
The most uniformly unique branch of the U.S. military was also the most recent to redesign their utility duds. The Navy currently features seven different working uniforms (sadly, neither this nor these are among them), but it is in the process of significantly reducing that number.
The new Navy Working Uniform (NWU) features a blue-hued version of the Marines’ digital pattern, though according to this Navy press release, the service plans to produce two additional versions: woodland and desert.
As all UW regulars know, the beauty of a uniform can be enhanced or degraded by the manner in which it is worn. This isn’t lost on the military (where “uniform” is both a noun and an adjective) – for proof (and for some additional views of the NWU) here’s a video on the proper wearing of the NWU.
Forward to the Future
As missions evolve and technology advances, military uniform experts are already hard at work planning to outfit the warriors of the future. Thankfully, it looks like the folks who came up with this “uni of the future” haven’t been invited to participate.
Thanks for that great look at military camo, Hugh. It sure does look better on a Gunnery Sergeant than a middle reliever.
After last weekend’s resoundingly successful “Group 5 & 1,” featuring Mr. Five and One himself, Jim Vilk (with Slovakian soccer on his mind), and guest rankers Mike Engle (doing his best “JTH” impression) and Joe Delach, two of that triumverate are back to rate the World Cup uniform matchups for the first full week of the tournament. I had hoped for a three-peat, but as of post-time, only two had sent in their reviews. But if the third of our party checks in later today, I’ll be sure to add that to this portion of the column. In a slight twist, Mike suggested using a “To Tell The Truth” format, so you’ll get
three two reviews, but the ranker won’t be revealed. See if you can guess who gave the reviews. (And, in a classic twist on the old game show, one of the three has given us an “I’d wear that” — but is it really the contestant who made that a UW catchphrase?)
First up, Reviewer A:
5) France vs Mexico: See how good Mexico looks when it sticks to el tri? This match might have looked better in years past with a different set of bumper stickers and template patterns, but it’s good enough to get on the board.
4) Italy vs Paraguay: Where’s Waldo?
3) Japan vs Cameroon: The color palette special of the week.
2) Côte d’Ivoire vs. Portugal: I cannot stress how much I LOVE that Portugal shirt. The Elephants’ orange made for a nice contrast.
1) Ghana vs. Serbia: Awesome, awesome, awesome. The red Serbia shirt looks spectacular, and the royal shorts work perfectly. (But were they bad luck? They disappeared for the glorious triumph over Germany.) As for Ghana, I think this is Puma’s best uniform because the black star is the best-executed shoulder decal. Together, we have a white team and a colored team integrating to make a great-looking game.
And the worst uni matchup:
England vs. Algeria: Is this a soccer game, or a sorbet menu? I see coconut and lime for sale, with the English goalkeeper as lemon sorbet and the Algerian, grape.
Next up, Reviewer B:
5) Algeria/Slovenia: Radioactive Charlie Brown unis? You betcha!
4) New Zeland/Slovakia: “Já bych nosiť, že!” (that’s Slovak for “I’d wear that!”)
3) Japan/Cameroon: Very nice contrast.
2) Spain/Switzerland: Not too dark, not too light, not too complex…just right.
1) Ivory Coast/Portugal: 99 & 44/100 % cool unis!
And the worst uni matchup:
Greece/Nigeria: Last week’s co-champs sent off this week, as Nigeria matched Greece in the weird striping department.
And for now…our third spot is empty. Hopefully we’ll get that later today.
Good morning. Good Afternoon. Goodnight. Here’s Rick:
Everything has a learning curve. Patience is essential for both the mentor and the student. Okay, so maybe it isn’t a “wax on, wax off” thing, and nobody’s gonna give anybody a really cool classic butter yellow convertible as a birthday present but, still, if there’s teaching to done…
Here’s your Saturday Benchies.
Musings, missives and More from UW stalwart Ben Traxel, who follows up last weekend’s
ridiculous drivel keen insights with more wit and witicism:
Here is this week’s reason people will be avoiding Uni Watch.
-Things I’ve learned from the World Cup:
1. Soccer uniforms win the jersey litter award.
2. I like vuvuzelas.
3. Soccer needs more scoring chances per game. Too often one team dominates and loses.
4. I am far from cosmopolitan.
-The playoff beard is one cool disgusting thing. This guy did it best this year.
-How did this massive head tank make it out of beta testing?
-Too classic to be ugly.
-A FINE detail that got scrapped early on was the bullseye on the back of the tequila sunrise.
-The Vikings either need to go back to this look, or move.
-I had a Cubs pillbox hat in the early 80’s. Apparently a few teams wore them in 1976 — Pirates (of course) and Cardinals. How many other teams wore this hat type in 1976 (or any time for that matter)? Did the 1976 All Star Game have everyone wear them? Phillies? White Sox? Yankees? And did a helmet version actually make it on the field?
-The only sport matching solid shirt/pants that doesn’t work is football. Except white. Then it’s okay. Even this ugly beauty is okay with me. Perhaps because it was the 70’s and nobody knew any better. But football today? Come on. I may have been young and naive but I used to think we had smart people in DC.
-This week’s stadium is E.J. Block Athletic Field in East Chicago Indiana. Great old dugout steps (a lost feature of yesteryear), awesome covered bleacher seating, steel columns impeding the view, hard to get much better than this. rpm? Game 4? Practically your own backyard?
-Florida State’s gold uniforms are sharp. Could do without the side panels and add some stripes to the socks, but overall they are very nice. Always a good change of pace to see background colors not white and flat gray.
That’s about enough muse ment for now.
Thank you Ben. I think. And yes, the Pączki Day stirrups are awesome.
Back at the beginning of the 2010 season, I announced the 2010 Uni Tracking that a number of us do. Last year, I devoted about four full weekend columns to it, and that was probably a bit much for most of us to take in one dose, so this year, I’ll occasionally post the updated tracking of certain teams as the trackers send them in. So, if you’ve been doing your due diligence with your team, send me your mid-season tracking reports, and I’ll post them as a “sub article” on the weekends. OK? OK!
Up first for this season is DenverGregg, who, not shockingly, is tracking the Colorado Rockies. Let’s see what he’s got so far:
This year I thought it would fun to track the Colorado Rockies’ uniforms worn and results, so I created the Roxtracker. After each game, I input the uni elements worn and the result onto the detail page. (Yeah, I decided to get a bit humorous with the opposing team names.) The detail info flows through automatically to a summary page that displays record, average runs for and average runs against by uniform combo, hat worn, jersey worn or home/road location of game (which correlates exactly with pants worn FWIW). Interesting that only one of the six combos worn to date correlates with a losing record, but it’s the combo worn the most frequently. Also interesting that the Rox allow (marginally) fewer runs per game YTD in Coors Field than elsewhere. Even the great results don’t mitigate my dislike of the sleeveless jerseys.
Been tracking your team? Let’s see how they’re doing so far. Be sure to send them to me and I’ll run the trackers on the weekends.
Back again with more Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions today. Lots to get to, and if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way. Still finding the tweaks have slowed to a trickle, so if you have something you’d like to show, give me a shout.
First up today is a man of few words, and a singluar name, Shane, who has 5 tweaks for the football team from Washington:
Next up is Kayce Harris, who has a tweak, but it’s not quite his own:
This picture showed up in a tweet from Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette. I realize this is just a photoshop, but it’s an interesting concept. I loved the Broncos orange pants/white jerseys with the old uniforms, and I wanted them to bring that back, but I’m not so sure now after seeing this.
— Kayce Harris
Moving along, we have Brian Shane, who, like so many, has a new concept for the Nationals:
Next time you run something on uniform tweaks, perhaps you’d consider my idea for a new Nationals home uniform. Thanks.
And closing down the show today is Seth Hubbard, who has some ideas for the Texans of Houston:
Never have been fond of the Texans current Uni scheme. So I made some changes that I think turned out quite well. Enjoy
Thanks to all who submitted their tweaks. Really been dwindling these days, so make sure all you tweakers keep them coming!
That’ll do it for today everyone. Have a great Saturday.
Camouflage is a game we all like to play, but our secrets are as surely revealed by what we want to seem to be as by what we want to conceal. — J. Russell Lynes