Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Army Fixing Uniforms Prone To Rips

The Army is retrofitting 1 million uniforms to bolster pants that have been tearing during the rigors of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers in Iraq began reporting "crotch durability problems" with their combat uniforms in July 2005, according to the Army. Jumping into Humvees, hopping from helicopters and scrambling after insurgents have popped inseams on the baggy pants. Rougher terrain in Afghanistan prompted complaints this past August from soldiers who said their uniforms gave out quickly. "This is a result of soldiers working in steep and harsh terrain and literally sliding down steep hills and mountains," Army spokesman Sheldon Smith said in an e-mail. Single-stitching has caused most of the blown-out inseams, said Erin Thomas, an Army spokeswoman. The new trousers are more durable, she said. A torn uniform inseam is no laughing matter, said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank. "Any well-made uniform should maintain its stitch in virtually all combat situations except direct fire," he said. "It is a serious problem if it becomes a distraction to the war fighter who needs to concentrate on completing a mission."The Army unveiled its current combat uniform in 2004. It has a digital camouflage pattern and pockets that can be reached while wearing body armor. The half-cotton, half-nylon uniform is supposed to last six months. U.S. plants make hundreds of thousands of them a month. Soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan receive two sets of combat uniforms and two sets of fire-resistant ones. By January, all of the uniforms soldiers receive will be made of fire-resistant material. The Army began issuing the flame-resistant clothes last year after insurgents began using incendiary bombs and targeting the fuel tanks on troops' vehicles. There are about 120,000 soldiers in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said. The new uniform represented an upgrade from a design that dated to the early 1980s. But it hasn't proved tough enough. Inseam blowouts became an issue in Iraq in 2005, Smith said. The Army "redesigned the assembly method for the crotch and incorporated the fixes into ACU (Army combat uniform) production." Improved uniforms were shipped last year, and stocks of existing uniforms were retrofitted with additional material, he said. In Afghanistan, the solutions are different. The Army is investigating improvements that include new uniforms built with more rugged material and a protective garment to be worn over the current uniform. Rips are to be expected under those conditions, said John Pike, director of, a website that analyzes military issues. "These are harsh environments," he said. "They're putting some wear on (their uniforms). That's the way these things go." Uniforms should have been designed originally to account for the strain, Thompson said. "Losing a crotch is supposed to happen sometime after a Thanksgiving meal, not in combat."

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