- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

MarPat has officially arrived on planet Earth, thanks to 23,000 Marines and a general's unique fashion sense.
The U.S. Marine Corps is changing its cammies.
In the next few months, thousands of leathernecks will ease out of their old camouflage uniforms and into the "new cammies" — revamped combat utility uniforms emblazoned with Marine Pattern, an edgy, newfangled color scheme said to be so effective that a man might just disappear in the underbrush, in an instant.
This organic-looking, dense "MarPat" is based on computer-generated images of woodland and desert, bearing the telltale digitized look of a very sophisticated video game. And it belongs to the Marines alone.
Which is the whole idea.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones had cast a critical eye last year on the combat effectiveness of the current crop of cammies, which are close to 25 years old. He was also determined that his Marines would have their own distinctive appearance on the battlefield.
The Combat Utility Uniform Project was born, a project so massive and of such personal interest to Marines around the globe that it warranted its own official Web site (www.tecom.usmc.mil/mcub/utility/newuteshome.htm ).
Again, part of the whole idea.
Gen. Jones, according to a spokesman, "wanted to personally involve as many Marines as possible" in the sartorial overhaul.
"Sometimes we have to be willing to change for the better," said Marine spokesman Capt. Burrell Parmer. "Eight years ago, for example, we didn't wear name tags. Some had questions about getting them. But once we got them, though, everything was great. They became a part of us."
Via an online survey, more than 23,000 Marines weighed in on the intricacies of trouser blousing, boot gaiters, chafing points, Velcro closures, zip-off sleeves, utility pockets, a new "butt patch" and the fact the updated cammies were constructed of durable, permanent-press fabric, eliminating monthly $60 dry-cleaning bills.
The old days of spit-and-polish may be on the wane as well. Proposed new boot designs include rough-textured surfaces that can do without the familiar tin of Kiwi paste and buffing cloth.
A hundred variations in camouflage patterns were also considered, from traditional blotchy hunter's wear, to tiger stripes and the pixilated, somewhat startling translations of the computer.
The project got down to very specific details. "Uniform inspection revealed that the highest incidence of material pilling and abrasion were in the uniforms from the 6th Marines," an analysis stated. "This could also account for some of the higher levels of chafing and irritation reported by this unit."
More than 400 Marines at Camp Lejeune, Okinawa, Twentynine Palms and other sites field-tested various prototypes, right down to their performance in the laundry.
"The uniform offers a unique and 'squared away' appearance, even after 50 days of wear," noted the official Marine Corps analysis.
Gen. Jones himself has tested the new MarPat digital design himself in the past few months and told National Defense magazine that the uniform will save money because it does not have a 22 percent price mark-up that the Defense Logistics Agency charges the Marines for uniforms. "I'll pay 2.5 percent," he said. "But not 22 percent."
What of female sensibilities in all this? While 98 percent of the uniform's field testers were male, the Corps considers the new design "unisex."
"Initial comments from female Marines have been favorable," the analysis noted. "However, to establish the compatibility of the uniform with women beyond any doubt, testing has to be conducted with a specific female test group."
When all is said and done, the new design contract will cost $131 million; uniform shops will begin carrying them this December, priced at $56 per set. New recruits will be issued the designs early next year.
But a change in uniform, even one carried out with such a collective and cost-effective consciousness, is never easy. Over the years, Marine uniforms have been the veritable second skins of raiders, scout-snipers, parachutists and the rest of the fighting population symbols of solidarity, spirit, comfort.
The Marine Corps Art Collection, in fact, contains numerous paintings of uniforms past and present, lovingly rendered down to the last color gradation, collar roll and stitch pattern. Some retired Marines have protested the cost — and the hubbub — of the "new utes." Others go with the flow.
"I'd rather be ugly and alive than pretty and dead," wrote a former Marine sergeant in a recent Leatherneck magazine.
"It's about time the Corps got innovative and changed to a unique style," said one 29-year Marine vet. "We were forced into wearing our current utility uniform jungle pattern after other [U.S. military branches] went with it."

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