You've seen soldiers wearing them since 1980: the dark green camouflage uniforms called BDU's that look as hot and as uncomfortable as they are.
"It tends to be sometimes. It gets bogged down with rain, stuff like that. Tradition has that we starch our uniforms, which takes away the properties that let them breathe, so it does get kind of hot," says Sergeant Ted Mueller of his battle dress uniform, or BDU.
Comfort isn't the first concern of the new Army uniform, called the Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, but comfort is welcomed by the soldiers. From the cap, with its reinforced bill to hold rain off the face, to the new all-purpose camouflage pattern, the uniform is brand new. The material it's made of is fifty-fifty nylon and cotton. The new uniform also makes liberal use of Velcro to hold insignia on and hold covers over zippers and pockets. Being able to remove badges is important.
"The reason you do that is you want to sterilize yourself when you go into war a lot of times. Therefore, the enemy cannot identify whether you're Army, whether you're an officer, whether you're an enlisted person," says Command Sergeant Major Greg Lunn.
The new ACU has special pockets for pads at the knee and elbow. It has slanted pockets on the jacket so soldiers can use the pockets while wearing protective vests. There's a reflective piece of material at the shoulder to be used to identify friendly soldiers using infrared.
The new uniform also has new shoes. They're tan, and sueded on the outside. They're waterproof and, according to Sergeant Major Lunn, they feel like tennis shoes.
Right now, the new uniforms are being worn by commanders, and command sergeants major, but troops headed to danger zones next March will get the new uniforms. By the end of 2006, most every soldier will have them.
Command Sergeant Major Lunn believes the troops will like their functional uniform, but they'll like the comfort too.
"It's much more comfortable. I'll tell you what, it feels like a pajama, if you will. It's light; it is easy to maintain. It fits your body, and it doesn't give you a bulky feel. It doesn't make you hot," says Lunn.
For the new uniform, function and comfort are a very nice combination.