Thursday, January 17, 2002

Around the Fleet

USN courtesy photo
Somber speech

Lt. Col. Carl T. Parker, commander of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron-352, speaks at a press conference about his seven Marines who died when their KC-130 crashed in Pakistan Jan 9. Elements of VMGR-352 are attached to Combined Task Force 58, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. All seven Marines were based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

New uniform debuts today

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The new Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform - featuring the "pixel" camouflage pattern - makes its long-awaited debut today at the military clothing store at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The sale of the new uniforms will mark a turning point, as they go from the drawing board and testing phase to regular use throughout the Corps.

Leathernecks at Camp Pendleton, Calif. will get theirs Feb. 1.

Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton each will receive initial shipments of 2,000 sets of the new uniforms. Additional shipments of the uniforms will go to each base every week.

"Marines are looking forward to wearing this new uniform," said Capt. Burrell D. Parmer, the spokesman for the Marine Corps Systems Command here.

Captain Parmer oversees the Web site for the new uniforms, and he has received lots of e-mail from Marines who are eager to find out when the new uniforms will be available.

By late February or early March, Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan also will be able to buy the new uniforms. Once inventories are sufficiently high, the new uniforms will be sold at all military clothing stores serving the Marine Corps.

Beginning in March, the Corps will issue the new uniforms to recruits and officer candidates. They will get three sets in the woodland camouflage scheme and two sets in the desert camouflage scheme.

The Corps plans to switch from the current "tiger stripe" pattern to the new "pixel" pattern over the next four years. During each of the next four years, Marines will be required to obtain a set of the new cammies, said Maj. Gabriel R. Patricio, System Command's project officer for the new design.

The price of the new uniforms is on par with the price of the current utility uniforms. It will cost about $60 to buy a set of trousers and a blouse. It will cost about $7 to buy a garrison cover and about $10 to buy a boonie cover.

When the transition period is over, in March of 2006, Marines will be required to own two sets of the new woodland uniforms and two sets of the new desert uniforms.

Also, the current utility uniforms will no longer be authorized.

The Marine Corps soon will adopt new infantry combat boots and new jungle boots that have rough leather that doesn't require polishing.

However, in the coming months, it's OK to wear the new uniform with black boots.

"Marines will be able to wear the current black boots with the MCCUU until the purchasing of the new boots," said Parmer. That means they can wear the new uniform as soon as they buy it.

The new camouflage pattern, which is often referred to as the Marine Pattern, beat out an improved "tiger stripe" pattern that was similar to the current utility uniform. The current utility uniform design is more than 20 years old.

As the name suggests, only Marines and Sailors serving with Marine units will be allowed to wear the Marine Pattern.

"The new pattern has been designed for a wide array of environments," said Maj. Thomas J. Rowe of MarCorSysCom here. "It utilizes a pattern that takes into account optical physiology and the way the mind processes visual information."

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, wanted Marines to participate in the design of the new uniform. Consequently, the Corps established an online survey and solicited ideas. Active, Reserve, retired and former Marines, as well as members of other services, contributed to the Web site. Participants completed 23,000 surveys.

Also, the designers of the new uniforms consulted with Marines from the operating forces and with Marines at the Corps' Scout Sniper Instructors School. Additionally, the designers consulted with a former professor at West Point who worked on camouflage patterns in the late 1970s.

Viewed up close, the Marine Pattern appears to have small digital blocks that look like large pixels from a video monitor. However, at a distance, the Marine Pattern blends in with numerous backgrounds.

Prototype uniforms received extensive testing during the design phase.

Company B of the 1st Marines, part of I Marine Expeditionary Force, subjected the uniforms to a 90-day test during various small boat and amphibious operations as it prepared for a deployment.

Company F of the 6th Marines, part of II Marine Expeditionary Force, gave the uniforms a 90-day trial during helicopter assault drills and other tasks during exercises at Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.

Company L of the 8th Marines, part of III Marine Expeditionary Force, wore the uniforms for 90 days during a variety of training exercises that included jungle operations.

Another group of Marines, which included both men and women, tested the uniforms for 90 days in a desert environment.

All of these tests were conducted between January and April of 2001.

While the "digital" or "pixel" look of the new cammies may be the most noticeable feature, there are many more features that came out of the extensive design and testing work.

The new uniforms have shoulder pockets and Velcro fasteners on the chest pockets.

The sleeve cuffs fasten with inboard buttons instead of outboard buttons to prevent snagging.

The new uniforms are made with a half-and-half blend of nylon and cotton. The wash-and-wear material means Marines can spend less time and money maintaining their cammies.

To make the new uniforms more durable, there will be special reinforcement in the knees and butt. Also, there will be insert spaces so that Marines can use knee and elbow pads.

The new uniforms have angled chest pockets and angled name/service tapes.

New uniforms are just the beginning. Over time, the Corps will phase in the new camouflage pattern for other items, such as the Gore-Tex parka.