U.S. Military Battle Dress Uniform (BDU)
Soldier in Battle Dress Uniform (2003).
History of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU)
Camouflage uniforms were used in World War II by both the Army and the Marine Corps. While widely used in the Pacific Theater by the USMC, there was otherwise little use, particularly in the ETO where there was the possibility of confusion with German troops using a similar pattern.
In 1968, Special Forces units in Vietnam were issued a camouflage pattern rip-stop poplin jungle utility uniform to replace the green sateen used previously. This "Tiger Stripe" pattern was an adaptation of the British design developed during the 1950s Malyasian confict, in turn based on experience fighting the Japanese in World War II. It is optimized for close range fighting (50 yards or less) in heavily foliated jungle. In 1978, the jungle camo utilities became standard issue for recruits.
The temperate camouflage battle dress uniform (BDU) was introduced as the Army's field and garrison uniform on 1 October 1981. It includes hat, shirt and trousers representing the second stage of a multiphased transition to an individual clothing and equipment system that is totally camouflaged. The BDU components are usually worn over a light brown t-shirt and underwear, with a black web belt (for Army -- other services vary colors of accessory items.) A camouflage field jacket in matching pattern is used for colder weather. Several types of matching cap are available for headgear.
BDU Camouflage Patterns
The temperate BDU is part of the Army's battle dress system (BDS), which includes four camouflage subsystems allowing the Army to operate in temperate, desert, tropical, and arctic environments. There are camouflage patterns to cover all operating environments a soldier might encounter, such as:
- Standard 3-color green BDU (USA and USMC issue)
- Desert 3-color BDU
- Desert 6-color BDU ("chocolate chip")
Camouflage is always a compromise since soldiers on the move will transition from one environment to another and their dress cannot be changed as they go. General patterns try to give the best possible cover for the likely range of operations, such as the planned combinations for temperate, desert, tropical, and arctic environments.
BDU Patrol Cap
Col. Steve Jones, assigned to Task Force Victory during a Cooperative Medical Assistance mission in the Kunar Province in Afghanistan, 18 August 2004.
The BDU Cap (also called "Patrol Cap") comes in several models for warm or cold temperatures. The models are generally called "CAP, CAMOUFLAGE" followed by a description of the intended use, such as:
- CAP, CAMOUFLAGE (ENHANCED) HW BDU
- CAP, CAMOUFLAGE, TEMP BDU
- CAP, CW, WOODLAND CAMOUFLAGE
- CAP, DESERT, CAMOUFLAGE, 3-COLOR
Cap material is 80/20 cotton, nylon blend. The cold weather models have ear flaps that fold up inside the cap when not in use. NSNs will have the last four digits vary according to the size of the cap.
A floppy brim field hat was also available in all the camo patterns. The so-called "boonie hat" was favored in the desert for its sun protection for the face and its better performance in surviving the heat.
BDU Field Jacket
In cool or winter weather, the Coat, Cold Weather, Field is available in matching camouflage patterns to the BDUs. It is similar in design to the M-65 Field Jacket with a drawstring waist, a hood concealed in a zipper pocket at the back of the collar, four large cargo pockets with snap buttons, a zipper front, and velcro sleeve tabs. A separate liner can be buttoned in for more warmth.
This overgarment/jacket, which incorporates the battle dress uniform's 6.8-ounce nylon and cotton fabric as the outer layer, passed development and operational tests in 1982 and was approved for limited procurement by the U.S. Army Support Activity in Philadelphia as the BDU Field Jacket. The NSNs were 8415-01-475-95xx where the last two digits varied by jacket size.
Temperate and Hot Weather BDUs
The coat/shirt and trousers of the BDU were issued in two weights: Temperate or Hot Weather. The temperate garments were a heavier cotton/nylon twill fabric designed for cooler weather.
The HWBDU was a 100% cotton garment, designed to be light weight and comfortable in warm to hot weather. However, soldiers could only get six to twelve months' wear out of it. The edges of sleeves and trousers frayed and the material could be torn. Additionally, soldiers had to starch the uniform because it did not look acceptable coming out of a dryer. In response to these complaints, the Enhanced Hot Weather BDU was produced starting in 1996. The EHWBDU are a 50-50 cotton-nylon mix, making them more durable and wrinkle resistant, at the same weight as the old BDUs.
BDU NSNs varied in the last four digits to indicate size and the temperature range. The group of 3 digits would vary with the camo pattern. 8415-01-4xx-xxxx were the coat/shirts and 8415-01-3xx-xxxx were the trousers.
Beret Replaces BDU Cap
Army Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki announced that black berets, formerly only worn by Rangers, would become the Army's standard headgear beginning June 2001. The BDU cap is still used in the field, but the black beret is now worn for garrison duty.
During the past 50 years, berets have been worn by a variety of U.S. Army formations—airborne, armor, cavalry, infantry, ranger, special forces, and others. The black beret was being worn by formations Army-wide when it was approved for wear by the Ranger Regiment in 1975. Today, it remains a symbol of excellence in the U.S. Army; therefore, on 14 June 2001, the first Army birthday of the new millennium, the black beret became standard wear for active and reserve Army components.
The beret consists of a woolen knitted outer shell (lined or unlined) with a leather sweatband and an adjusting ribbon threaded through the binding. The beret is equipped with a stiffener on the left front for the attachment of organizational flashes and insignia. Officers and warrant officers wear non-subdued grade insignia centered on the beret flash. Enlisted personnel wear their distinctive unit insignia centered on the beret flash. General officers may wear full, medium, or miniature-sized stars on the beret. Stars are worn point-to-point and may be mounted on a bar as an option.
Other Improvements to the BDU
The U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, MA is constantly evaluating improvements to clothing and other gear. One innovation is a reversible camouflage fabric with a 4-color woodland pattern on one side and a 3-color desert pattern on the reverse side. Other pattern combinations are being investigated, such as urban/desert on one side and urban/woodland on the other.
In 2002, the Natick Labs started a program to develop Wrinkle Resistant/Permanent Press Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs) to reduce the care required and increase the life of the garments. As of 2004 the program has succeeded in showing ite value of permanent press and BDUs are being issued with the improvement.
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