When the full House and the Senate Armed Services Committee take up their fiscal 2014 defense policy bills this week, troops may literally lose the shirts off their backs.
Lawmakers want to push the services to agree on a common combat camouflage uniform.
The move is being considered because the military services currently field 10 different types of camouflage uniforms, up from only two as recently as 2001. Now, the Army — the largest of the services — is considering yet again replacing what it is using.
Consolidating the number of uniforms, which would affect almost all of the 2.2 million men and women in the active and part-time armed forces, could save up to a quarter of a billion dollars, according to proponents. But it also could alienate many uniformed troops and be a blow to the morale of the different services at a time when the military community is already reeling from deep budget cuts and a series of sexual-assault scandals.
The lawmakers proposing the change insist that it’s not necessary for the four combat services — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — to have 10 different types of combat uniforms. They point out that the Navy’s “aquaflage” and Air Force’s “airmen’s battle uniform” can’t be worn in Afghanistan, a senior congressional aide noted. The aide explained that wearing such uniforms in Afghanistan would make those troops vulnerable.
“Look, I would love for each of the services to be able to have their own camouflage uniform if that’s what they feel it needed,” said Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who co-sponsored the amendment to the House Armed Services panel’s policy bill last week that called for a common camouflage combat uniform. “But when you have a camouflage uniform that can’t be used, can’t be worn in combat ... I just think we can’t afford that right now. ”
Duckworth and Illinois Democrat Bill Enyart, the other co-sponsor, calculated their push would resonate in a climate of diminished defense resources. The Army could save more than $80 million, according to a Government Accountability Office report from late 2012.
Indeed, the GAO report, which was highly critical of the Pentagon, helped spur Enyart’s and Duckworth’s amendment.
“The military services’ fragmented approach for acquiring uniforms has not ensured the development of joint criteria for new uniforms or achieved cost efficiency,” the GAO stated. “DOD has not met a statutory requirement to establish joint criteria for future uniforms or taken steps to ensure that uniforms provide equivalent levels of performance and protection for service members, and the services have not pursued opportunities to seek to reduce clothing costs, such as by collaborating on uniform inventory costs.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.