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Uniform update: Key officer weighs in on NWUs, crackerjacks, running suit

Nov. 19, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sailors aboard the attack submarine Bremerton secure mooring lines in Apra Harbor, Guam, in April. The lightweight Navy working uniform, expected to undergo wear tests soon, will look identical to the normal NWU.
Sailors aboard the attack submarine Bremerton secure mooring lines in Apra Harbor, Guam, in April. The lightweight Navy working uniform, expected to undergo wear tests soon, will look identical to the normal NWU. (MC1 Jeffrey Jay Price / Navy)
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A lightweight NWU wear test appears imminent, and the redesigned white crackerjacks are coming soon, too, contingent on funding. And it’s back to the drawing board for a new and improved running suit.

The head of the Navy’s Uniform Matters Office, Capt. Jeffrey Krusling, shared these updates in a Nov. 6 sit-down with Navy Times.

Here’s what you need to know about these latest developments:

Lightweight NWUs

Sailors who serve in hot climates have often complained that the blue-and-gray Navy working uniform is too heavy and oppressive. Officials have heard those complaints and are moving forward with a possible replacement that would be similar in design but much more breathable.

The next step: a wide-ranging wear test of this lightweight version of the NWU. At least 300 sailors will get to try these lightweight NWUs if the trial moves forward, Krusling said.

He said no design changes, such as underarm slits, are expected.

“It’ll have the same pattern and we expect it’ll be virtually impossible to tell the difference visually between what might be a lightweight and the current uniform,” Krusling said.

He said uniform officials are mulling “several options,” but did not elaborate. In the past, they have outlined two possibilities:

■The nylon-cotton-blend fabric could be replaced by a lighter-weight material. Nylon and polyester, both synthetic fabrics, can be manufactured into the kinds of moisture-wicking clothes commonly used in sports apparel. The Navy could also confer with the Marines, who are designing a lightweight, quick-drying version of their digital pattern cammies.

■Changes could be made to the curing finish applied to NWUs, a treatment designed to maintain the uniform’s permanent press — or the treatment could be skipped completely. Not treating the fabric might make it more breathable, uniform officials said.

“The wear test has been submitted for review and approval. Our hope is that in 2014, that begins,” Krusling told Navy Times, adding that the wear test would “cover diverse locations” and “target the hotter climates.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert endorsed the plan in an August interview.

“I get a lot of comments about, it’s hot — people in tropical areas,” he said. “I’ve worn it and I agree.”

White crackerjacks

Plans are proceeding for the long-awaited update to the dress whites.

The first redesign since World War II, the new version harks back to the full dress white uniform phased out in 1940. It features yoke around the chest and piping on the back flap and on the tailored cuffs at the end of the sleeves. It also makes the dress whites a photo-negative of the dress blues.

Several years in development, the Navy has successfully worked through a couple of kinks. Initially, the blue piping bled into the white of the uniform, but that was resolved by experimenting with different fabrics. The yoke was also improved to be more form-fitting.

Navy Times reported in May 2012 that Greenert had approved these revised service dress whites, but sailors still aren’t wearing them.

Why? It’s an issue of paying for mass production, Krusling said.

CNP officials were hesitant to discuss estimated cost because the Navy is still in the process of soliciting a production contract. But sources say it could cost the service more than $21 million, based on a per-set cost of $40 — a $3 increase from the current ones.

Despite funding concerns, the plan is to start issuing dress whites and dress blues in 2015 to recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.

Running suit

Officials have decided against a blue warm-up suit worn by recruits in trials last year at Great Lakes. Recruits discovered the suit’s material wore down too quickly, especially along the legs, shoulders and underarms and other places the fabric rubbed.

“What we found out of that is that the fabric just wasn’t lasting, the fabric wasn’t holding up as well as we’d expected,” Krusling said.

The running suit, which has a “NAVY” logo in reflective gray lettering on the front and back, was a completely different design and material from previous efforts. Instead of a “wind suit,” the latest design was essentially warm-up attire, with breathable fabric designed to wick sweat away. The pullover top has long sleeves and thumb holes in the wrist cuffs; on a cold day, the wearer can put his thumbs through the holes to keep his sleeves down. The bottom of the pant legs stretch so they can be slipped on over shoes. And the pants have convenient pockets for personal items.

Other features of the suit, produced by apparel designer New Balance, include a zippered side pocket where you can store keys and an ID card; an elastic waist with drawstring; and a nylon-polyester fabric blend designed to wick away sweat quickly. The material was not treated to be water-resistant.

Officials were hopeful before last year’s wear test. The running suit was put through a “mannequin test” in wet and windy conditions and held up well, officials told Navy Times.

But when turned over to about 180 recruits, the wear and tear proved too much, thereby ending the latest attempt in the six-year effort to find high-performance outerwear for sailors in the gold-and-blue PT uniform.

The search for a Navy running suit started in 2007, when officials were developing a total physical training uniform package. Initial wear tests in 2008 were also a failure. And early discussions went back and forth from the suit being an “optional” component that sailors would have to buy themselves or an issue item required in the seabag. Those decisions have been on hold while the Navy seeks a better design.

Now officials find themselves once again looking for a feasible running suit — one that could be mass produced inexpensively.

“We’re still in the beginning stages of that,” said Krusling, who declined to go into more detail about the leading options or say when the next trial was likely to begin.

In the meantime, sailors going for a cold run are stuck with their issued navy blue sweatpants and sweatshirts.

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