Despite the desert conditions of the Iraqi campaign, many American soldiers are sporting deep-green combat fatigues. Why are some troops donning woodland camouflage?
According to published reports, the Pentagon simply goofed by not anticipating the demand for sand-colored desert fatigues, formally known as battle-dress uniforms. When Army and Marine units were preparing for deployment, several discovered that they lacked enough desert BDUs to outfit each soldier with the requisite three outfits. The UPI reports that the Army's 4th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas, chose to dress all its troops in the more traditional green fatigues—commonly referred to as woodland BDUs—rather than have only some don desert dress. Homogeneity is generally preferred among military commanders.
Units that departed for the Middle East earlier this year were promised fresh BDUs upon arrival, but shipments have been slow to arrive; support commanders are reporting that they're already out of desert fatigues. The Pentagon's Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia has ordered manufacturers to increase production of desert camouflage at the expense of woodland BDUs.
A dearth of appropriately stealthy uniforms was also a problem during Gulf War I, as many U.S. troops were forced to wear dark green. The Pentagon learned at least one lesson from the 1991 conflict, however: The Marines' anti-chemical-weapons suits, known as Mission-Oriented Protective Posture clothing, used to only be available in woodland patterns. The latest MOPP gear features a three-color desert design.
Military leaders insist that the shortage of desert BDUs will not affect the safety of American soldiers. They point out that Iraq's terrain is not entirely Sahara-like, and that green camouflage may actually work better near the banks of the Euphrates River, where vegetation and mud are present.
Bonus Explainer: The Pentagon is not alone in its camouflage foibles. The Canadian military was heavily criticized for dispatching troops to Afghanistan in woodland dress during Operation Enduring Freedom. Earlier this month, Canada's red-faced Defence Department officially put a "rush" on an order for desert BDUs, which will be sent to the 2,000 peacekeepers the country has committed to Afghanistan.
Thanks to Steve Buyske and many others for asking the question.