The New Army Combat Uniform (ACU)

Last year, the Army announced that it would field a new ACU. The ACU will replace the BDU’s that we’ve been wearing since the early 80’s. You can read about the new ACU here.

Personally, I don’t really mind the new uniform. While it’s always cool to have something new and interesting to wear after years of putting on the same uniform for years, I don’t like the idea of having to purchase another new uniform. Since I’ve been in the Army, I’ve had to buy three completely new sets of uniforms…out of my own pocket. The Army’s answer to this each time is the yearly clothing allowance we get. The allowance is meant to replace up to 2 uniforms a year. We get it on the anniversary of when we joined the Army each year. Officers don’t get this allowance. Without fail, I usually end up spending more than this allowance on uniform items, to include new uniforms, boots, socks, t-shirts, patches, sewing, shoe polish, headgear, laundry, belts, awards, etc.

When the new Army Physical Fitness Uniform (APFU) came out, it cost me almost $200 to purchase. The uniform consists of a jacket, long pants, 4 pairs of shorts, 4 short sleeve t-shirts, 4 long sleeve t-shirts, and running shoes. Additionally, I wear spandex shorts under my shorts to prevent chafing while running. Then came the new Class A uniform material. There goes another $250 to purchase the jacket, 2 pairs of pants, 2 short sleeve shirts and 2 long sleeve shirts. Now, we get the ACU. The ACU will cost us about $90 a set (we are required to possess 4 complete uniforms – $360). To offset a uniform change each time, the Army has adopted a “wear-out” date. Soldiers are usually given about 2-3 years to purchase new uniforms.

With all that said, let me say that I personally don’t have any problems buying new uniforms. I’m usually one of the first people to wear any new uniform. As a Sergeant First Class, it’s not that much of a deal for me. But, to a the junior enlisted soldiers, this is difficult. Additionally, officers are required to purchase these new uniforms out of their pockets since they don’t get a uniform allowance. So, not only do they have to pay for any and all uniforms and upkeep throughout the year without a uniform allowance, they have to purchase another complete set of uniforms from their own budgets. Granted, officers get paid more than enlisted folks do, but with all their other expenses as officers, it’s still a lot of money. Now, I’m not complaining about the new uniform. Actually, I think it’s a welcome change. A lot of the new features in the uniform are changes I would have recommended.

The point of this post is to highlight a minor change that is really chafing the officer ranks. Enlisted soldiers and Noncommissioned Officers (NCO’s or sergeants) wear their rank on both sides of their collar. Officers and Warrant Officers wear their rank on the left side and their branch insignia on their right. Everyone in the military, enlisted or officer, is a member of a particular branch. Some are Armor, some Infantry, some Military Intelligence, some Artillery, and some Military Police. With the officers, you can tell what branch they are in by looking at their collar most of the time. With enlisted, you have to ask or know them. You can usually tell by what unit they’re in. It’s not a difficult thing to know. With the new ACU, the branch insignia for officers will go away, in favor of just rank in the same location enlisted soldiers will put it.

There was a letter in the Army Times this week from a Captain complaining about the change. His excuses for why it sucked were lame: it serves as advance recognition to soldier so they can render the “proper honors”; it identifies your specialty; it helps them direct detailed questions to the right professionals. Instead of answering these excuses again, let me just paste reply letter I sent to the Army Times immediately after reading this letter:

“You know, I’m tired of hearing the officers whine about the loss of their beloved branch insignia. Their complaints smack of lunacy: it serves as advance recognition (I don’t care about your branch, I salute the rank); it identifies your specialty (I’m a professional NCO with over 10 years in service and haven’t once worn branch insignia – it hasn’t hindered my job performance); I can’t relate to other officers because I don’t know their branch (I’m glad NCOs don’t have that problem, we relate to everyone). I find the arguments belittling to me and my fellow NCOs. We’ve never worn our branch insignia (except in Class A’s) and have never had problems asking others in our branch for help. It’s not that difficult finding people in your branch. It’s called conversation. Unless these officers are asking complete strangers a detailed question on armor tactics or logistics, I find it hard to believe they don’t know their fellow peers’ branches. I say suck it up and drive on. Your branch doesn’t earn you respect. Your rank and ability to lead does.”

I’m sure some people will be offended by that. I’m hoping they are. I’m hoping it changes their perspective and opens their eyes to how absurd their reasoning is.

Until they do so, I’ll remain………


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