Pattern Recognition: Explosion Of Camouflage Designs Illustrates Pentagon Waste

Does the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) require a distinct camouflage pattern to excel on the battlefield? I doubt it. Nevertheless, the USMC adopted its own pattern around 2002, when I was on active duty, in keeping with a trend for distinctive camouflage patterns among the military branches.

Since 2002, two camouflage patterns have grown into TEN camouflage patterns between all military branches of service. Many of the patterns and fabric have proven to be ineffective in field/ship environments. Creating multiple camouflage uniforms has turned into a perfect example of how rampant duplication in the Pentagon leads to more wasteful government spending.

Today, Congressional budget-watchers are questioning the military’s expanding catalog of camouflage patterns, Timothy Homan reports at Bloomberg News. That’s good news for those of us who care about intelligent and effective spending in the Pentagon.

While this may sound like a small issue, it’s important to note that small spending issues can quickly turn into millions—or even billions—of wasted taxpayer dollars.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “the Pentagon spent about $300 million procuring new camouflage uniforms in fiscal 2011 and more than $10 million since 2002 developing different designs,” Homan notes.

“The Army alone may save an estimated $82 million if another branch worked with it to develop a new camouflage design, the GAO said in a report published in September 2012,” the Bloomberg report notes. “The government watchdog agency also said that if the Army selects a new design it would cost as much as $4 billion over five years to replace existing ones and the associated protective gear.”

The GAO report prompted the effort by lawmakers to cut spending and costs. With sequestration, budget cuts and defense employees taking furlough days, the Pentagon can’t continue wasteful and frivolous spending. Thus, Congress is taking note of wasteful spending, like the proliferation of camouflage patterns.

But we can expect push back from the service branches. For example, Marine Corps Sergeant Major Mike Barrett said earlier this year there is a reason Marines want to look distinctive on the battlefield: “Like our dress blues, the [combat uniform] is a visible indicator of our identity as United States Marines, globally,” he said. “It’s part of our Corps’ identity.”

That’s a typical response from too many within the Department of Defense: “Don’t touch mine.”

The fact is that there is no evidence that the pattern of the USMC’s “MARPAT” camouflage pattern alone enhanced a single Marine’s performance on the battlefield at any point in the last 10 years.

If the distinct “Marines” patch sewn over the left breast pocket isn’t enough to identify who we are, then we’ve forgotten what makes the Marines the unique service they were long before they had their own distinct camouflage pattern. After all, the Marines thrived for more than two centuries without this unnecessary frill.

Military men and women don’t always like change. When I was on active duty, I witnessed firsthand that resistance to change. When Marines had to sew name tags and branch of service onto their uniforms, many protested. Some Marines said the name tags made their uniform look like those of the Army, which had the tags over each breast pocket.

And when the new digital uniform were introduced, many non-commissioned officers protested, since the new uniform wouldn’t require ironing or starch to maintain creases. They actually believed the pressed uniform was the mark of a professional Marine. Any Marine that didn’t press or have their camouflage uniform dry cleaned and starched was considered a “[expletive]-bird.” Looking back, I have to laugh. Not one of us carried an iron and can of starch in our pack when we went to the field.

As I often heard as a Marine, “Choose your hill to die on.” The camouflage problem is one of many expensive and unnecessary items blended into our bloated defense budget. It’s time to get serious and knock off the territorial fashion statements. Unique service pride should not come at a cost that rests on the backs of hard-working taxpayers.

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