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Should Armed Services Have a Common Combat Camouflage?

Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images
Some lawmakers want to push the military services, which currently have 10 types of camouflage uniforms, to agree on a common combat camouflage uniform.

When the GOP-led panel narrowly added the provision to its fiscal 2014 defense policy bill (HR 1960) last week, it was the Democrat’s sole success during the markup.

Nonetheless, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., submitted an amendment to strip away the language when the House takes up the measure this week.

A similar provision is also being included in the draft Senate Armed Services version of the bill. According to a draft summary, the bill would direct the Pentagon to reduce the separate development and fielding of service-specific combat and camouflage utility uniforms, and eventually push the military to return to the same combat uniform.

It may not be big money in the context of a more than $600 billion defense bill — Enyart said all four services could ultimately save a total of $250 million by going to one combat uniform — but for the textile companies that make the uniforms, it’s big business, one senior congressional aide noted.

Service Pride

Some outside experts and former generals insist, however, that the symbolism of reining in potentially wasteful spending is outweighed by something more important — the boost to pride and morale generated by distinctive uniforms.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, a respected budget hawk, said he would give Enyart and Duckworth “old Maggie’s drawers,” a reference to a red flag that is waved on a Marine Corps firing range when a target is missed entirely.

“The House Armed Services Committee has ignored several ticking time bombs that are degrading our combat readiness in our military every day,” Punaro said. “My bigger point is not because I’m a Marine and I’m a general. I’ve been around this issue a long time. The fact that the House Armed Services Committee would ignore, unbelievably, the problems that are causing us to have less combat capability and focus on something that has zero to do with combat capability is just amazing.”

Punaro complained that the fiscal 2013 sequester is undermining military readiness, and now the committee has chosen to ignore congressionally mandated defense spending limits that could lead to the military facing yet another course of across-the-board cuts of about $52 billion.

He asked where the panel was when the services were expanding from two combat camouflage uniforms to 10.

“If they were so concerned about these uniforms, where were they when these services designed the individual uniforms?” he asked. “It’s like the ship is sunk and three years later we want to row the captain to where the ship sunk and sink him with the ship.”

Enyart, however, defended his efforts. He said he supported a Democratic amendment that would have given the military $20 billion in transfer authority within its budget to help it limit the effects of the sequester. Those efforts were beaten back by the GOP majority.

“It just gave the authority to be flexible, which is what I have heard the generals, the four stars and the service secretaries ask for,” he said. “And I supported that, I voted for it. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Duckworth said poorly spent money at any level should be addressed.

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