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Sailors test lightweight cammies that could become optional uniform

Jun. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Christian Mountian rolls up Fire Controlman 2nd Class Scott Godwin's sleeve during a uniform wear test aboard the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based destroyer Chafee on June 18.
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Christian Mountian rolls up Fire Controlman 2nd Class Scott Godwin's sleeve during a uniform wear test aboard the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based destroyer Chafee on June 18. (MC2 Diana Quinlan/Navy)
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Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Anyela Valdez models the lightweight Navy working uniform, or LNWU, during wear-tests on the destroyer Chafee. Sailors stationed in Bahrain, Guam and Hawaii are wearing the LNWU as part of an eight-week test. (MC2 Diana Quinlan/Navy)

For years, sailors facing the wilting heat of Bahrain or the tropical humidity of Guam have complained that the Navy working uniform wasn’t cutting it. The blouse is too heavy for work topside, they’ve said, and the belt and tucked-in trouser legs trap heat like a greenhouse.

Well, relief may be on the way: A lightweight NWU just started its first fleet testing with the possibility that it could be a permanent uniform by next year. And the reviews are largely positive.

“It is lighter than I expected and a lot cooler,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class (SW) Anyela Valdez, a sailor aboard destroyer Chafee in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a phone interview just days after getting her sets.

“It exceeded my expectations,” she said.

Valdez is one of 238 sailors in three locations — Bahrain, Guam and Hawaii — who are wear-testing the new NWUs for a 60-day period that started June 9. They’re testing two versions, which have a nearly identical design to the regular NWU and are getting rave reviews from testers who report they’re more comfortable and breathable, sailors involved in the testing say.

The prototype uniforms being tested weigh about one-third less than the regular NWUs — a step taken to boost comfort.

“You can tell that it is much thinner than the original NWUs,” said Logistics Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Christian Mountain, another Chafee sailor.

The only major gripe: Insignia is worn on a center chest-tab, similar to desert and woodland cammies, instead of the collar like on regular NWUs.

Not to worry, though. Officials say the center rank insignia, to identify the test uniforms, will be jettisoned in the final design.

Testers are recording their feedback, including a survey at the end of the wear test, which officials will use to analyze the uniform’s fit and performance. A decision about whether to field the lightweight NWU is expected in early 2015, said Capt. Jeffery Krusling, head of the Uniform Matters office.

The options on the table: Issuing lightweight NWUs to sailors assigned to ships and bases in tropical regions; adding the lightweight NWU to the sea bag maintained by every sailor; or making it an optional uniform purchased by sailors.

If approved, officials are leaning toward making lightweight NWUs an optional item sailors can buy, to be worn anywhere NWUs are authorized.

NWUs get cool

The tests will focus on appearance, performance and durability when worn in a tropical environment. Two lightweight fabrics are being tested.

The first uses the same fabric as the blue-and-gray NWU, a nylon-cotton twill. The difference is in the timing of the fabric’s wrinkle-free treatment.

The lightweight fabric receives a permanent press treatment during manufacturing while the existing one comes afterwards.

The other version sports a nylon-cotton rip-stop fabric that’s used in the desert and woodland pattern NWUs. (Rip-stop is woven in an overlapping checkerboard-like weave, whereas twill is woven in a diagonal pattern.) The fabric will lack the wrinkle-free coating that officials believe may make the uniforms more stuffy. It is likely these could have a more rumpled appearance as a result.

The uniform can be laundered following the same specifications as the NWU.

While the prototypes and current NWUs may have the same design, they certainly don’t wear the same.

“It helps me get cooler a lot quicker when outside working or bringing parts on the ship,” said Mountain in a June 11 phone interview. “I can feel the breeze blowing through this uniform, which helps disperse the heat and keep me cooler. When you’re inside of a space and the [air conditioning] is blowing, you can feel the A/C going directly to your body through the uniform. It’s a very good change.”

One sailor even griped that the latest NWU may be too light for the hot-and-cold shifts aboard ship.

“I work a lot in computer spaces so I can actually feel a little bit of chill,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Scott Godwin. “Sometimes I have to put on a jacket.”

Still, Godwin said he would buy a set for days when he has to work outside.

While excited about a cooler uniform, some sailors worried that “lighter” may equate to “weaker.” Test officials have extra uniforms to replace any that get torn or worn down too quickly. So far, those have not been needed.

The uniform feels sturdy and, though thinner, it doesn’t feel frail, losing its shape or thickness, Godwin said. Besides the chest tab, his only gripe was that the upper chest area near the collar needs “a little bit of extra attention” to look flat and professional.

“To make the uniform look squared away, you need to give it a little touch-up iron to make it lay flat,” Godwin said. “Aside from that, I like the uniform.”

Mountain, the logistics specialist, said the new NWUs are helping him keep cool on the job. He hasn’t seen any durability issues after two days wearing them.

“Carrying boxes on and off the ship, I have come across a couple of snags in the p-ways and I haven’t had any rips in my uniform,” Mountain said.

Many said they are not looking forward to giving back the lightweight NWUs when the wear test concludes.

“Having to put on my old uniform and go back to the extreme hotness is something that I am not looking forward to,” said Mountain, who is willing to pay extra to wear the test set permanently.

“As soon as it becomes available, I plan on purchasing it and wearing it from then on, and I encourage other sailors to do the same,” he said.

Valdez agreed.

“I don’t want to give it up because I can feel the difference,” she said only two days after first putting it on. “It is definitely a lot lighter.”

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