After four long years, the Army is soon to announce its next camo pattern. It’ll likely look like a bigger version of MARPAT, but the decision is being closely guarded. Soldier Systems Daily (SSD) is doing an excellent job keeping up on that issue, but before the decision comes out and the screaming starts, I wanted to discuss some camo issues that have been ‘camouflaged’ over the last decade.

Camouflage?  ACUs, MARPAT, MultiCam, ABUs, NWU (Aquaflage), AOR 1 & 2…  (Sigh) Reams have been written. Enough epithets have been thrown out there for the spit to fill a virtual lake. HOW did we get from two pretty effective patterns to eight? Where are we? Who messed up and where? How can we ensure we don’t do this again? I’ll likely write a dozen pages someday, if for no other reason than a case study for how not to do things. In the meantime, let’s look at this decades-old controversy in a new way.

Just like ACUs, it’ll be sure to make everyone angry.

The camo saga, where to start? I could go back to BDUs, but most start with ACUs. Unfortunately, the current fiasco started with MARPAT, and it’s shocking how the narrative has ignored where the problem started.  Why? I don’t think it’s just because MARPAT is effective and ACU’s (or UCP, to be technically accurate) were not. *Universal Camo Pattern is what the pattern is actually called. Technically, ACUs apply to the style/cut of the uniform. ACUs have been fielded in coffee stain, UCP and MultiCam.

Why did we develop MARPAT? Were woodland (BDUs) and desert (DCUs aka “coffee stain”) patterns ineffective? This question hasn’t been asked much, let alone answered, but it’s been asked many a times about UCPs. If BDUs were not as good as they could have been, then there’s justification for improvement. Where’s the evidence? Again, it’s often asked of ACU/UCP. If the decision was based on the desire for a fresh or unique look like the Marine commandant said, would that make the Army’s later decisions any more wrong/right? “Well MARPAT works!” TRUE! Does that make the decision to develop a new pattern (when there wasn’t a need) any more justified?  Wisdom based on hindsight isn’t wisdom.

Why did we develop ACUs? That’s a good question and it’s been asked/answered plenty. For brevity’s sake, it was for the same reasons the Marines developed MARPAT. A service wanted a “new look,” and yes, technology to print camo had advanced, but with one incredibly important and central caveat. MARPAT was not an option for the Army. What is undeniable is that the development of MARPAT definitely played into the decision to develop ACUs. Does another branch’s development justify a reason to match it? I think not, but to accuse one of the “Gucci” factor, when both did the same thing for the same reason, is hypocrisy.

OK, the Marines developed a spiffy and EFFECTIVE camo pattern. The Army has to wonder if it’s being left behind both on the style and substance fronts. This gets the wheels rolling, but, for the first time in our history, a roadblock is thrown in its way by the Marine Commandant, who not only copyrights a camo pattern for the first time in our history, but states emphatically it’s only for Marines. Again, this is an issue that has rarely, IF EVER, been discussed. Heck, even the GAO study commissioned to look at the issue, glossed over that past decision to copyright a pattern and its impact. They even recommended that the DoD work together in the future by developing joint criteria, so that uniforms provide the same level of protection, and that services pursue partnerships to reduce cost, inventory and fragmentation.