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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

Marines get new uniform

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Marine tests show that when the service's new camouflage uniform is worn side by side with the battle gear used by all troops for more than two decades, the new version is harder to spot.

Sgt Maj. Stephen Mellinger is one of the first to wear the Marine Corps' new camouflage uniform. The pattern of the old uniform can be seen on the shirt on the hanger.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Against the Hawai'i backdrop, the new uniform is just as hard to see, but for different reasons.

So far, only two Marines — Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, the departing commander of Marine Forces Pacific, and Force Sgt. Maj. Stephen Mellinger — are wearing the new utility uniform with its digital design.

Mellinger is looking forward to the changeover, expected to begin by the end of the year, for 6,800 Marines at Kane'ohe Bay and 400 more at Camp Smith.

"I, personally, will be very glad when the rest of the Marine Corps is in these things," he said. "About 75 percent of my conversations have to do with the uniform — and that's good, because it means the Marines are getting informed about what's going on."

The new "utes," in development for about a year, have been a hot topic for tradition-bound Marines. For more than 20 years that's meant camouflage with green, brown and black splotches.

"Marines don't like giving up tradition, the history, which maintains the Marine Corps for what we want it to be," Mellinger said.

So when he got his first set, Mellinger said his reaction was probably like that of other Marines: "It was, 'Whoa, this is a big change from what we're used to.' "

But Mellinger has been sold on the new design, and thinks other Marines will be too. He and Libutti have been wearing the uniform so other Marines can get a look at it.

Marine Corps shops are expected to start supplying the uniform by the end of the year, with a complete transition from splotches and black or light tan boots to digital design and brown suede boots in two to three years.

The uniform board narrowed the choice down to two: digital or tiger stripe

Gen. James L. Jones, the commandant of the Marine Corps, then brought in Marines from three units to test-wear the new utes "so he could look them in the eye and say, 'OK, don't tell me what I want to hear, tell me what you think,' " Mellinger said. "That's probably the first time, I'm aware of, that's ever been done."

The uniform has smaller patches of color, and less brown in it. A desert pattern sports the same digital effect. Gone will be black boots worn with the old design.

Other improvements include chest slash pockets that are accessible even while wearing a flak jacket, and shoulder sleeve pockets. Zip-off sleeves were considered, but rejected. Velcro pocket closures and snaps also were ditched — too much noise.

Pads can be inserted at the knee and elbow. The new uniform is wash-and-wear, leaving dry-cleaning days behind, a cost-savings for Marines.

There are quirky touches: the Marines plan to copyright the design, and have incorporated the Marine Corps insignia into the camouflage.

Private First Class Timothy Johnson, 18, said he likes the "squared-away starched" look of the old uniform and black boots, but he sees convenience and more comfort in the new version.

"I'm excited about the new ones," he said. "I'm a little disappointed you can't do as much with them as far as appearance, but I'm excited about the changes the Marine Corps is making with them."