This story was originally published at 3:47 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 4, 2016.
They failed to reduce the number of uniforms sailors must maintain. Their threads put sailors at risk for worsening burn injuries by melting. And sailors said they were uncomfortable and that the only camouflage they offered was when someone fell overboard.
The blue-and-gray cammies originally intended to be the Navy's mainstay uniform are officially headed for Davy Jones' seabag, ending a decade of wrestling with a revolutionary uniform concept that failed to get its sea legs despite updates and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
The blue-and-gray Navy working uniform, known as the Type I, will be dumped effective Oct. 1, Navy officials announced Thursday, though wear will be phased out over three years. In its stead, the digital woodland pattern cammies, or NWU Type III, will become the standard shore duty uniform across the service. The NWU Type III is a tactical uniform that has a reputation for being more comfortable and officials also anticipate some cost-savings by switching to it.
“We have heard the feedback and we are acting on it,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a statement provided to Navy Times Aug. 4. “As a direct result of sailors' input, effective October 1, we will transition from the NWU Type I to the NWU Type III as our primary shore working uniform."
The announcement signals another tectonic shift in the Navy's changing seabag. Many details are still being worked out. What you need to know:
- Green cammies. Sailors who don't currently wear the woodland cammies may start to do so in October, with their commanding officer's approval. These uniforms will start going on sale at uniform stores. Recruits will start being issued them in October 2017 and sets of these units will be rolled out to sailors over the next two years. By October 2019, green-and-tan cammies will be the shore duty standard uniform.
- Blue cammies. Sailors will not be allowed to wear their blueberries after Oct. 1, 2019.
- Fleet uniforms. Officials are working on a replacement to the unpopular flame-resistant variant coveralls worn in the fleet. In addition to the improved FRV coverall, officials are also pursuing a new direction after surveys found interest in a two-piece utility style uniform that's flame-resistant and can be worn at sea and ashore. A wear test is planned for 2017.
Who's paying for the NWU changes? The answer depends if you're enlisted or an officer.
Enlisted will get money to purchase woodland cammies and accessories via the Clothing Replacement Allowance. Officers will have to pay out of pocket, however, as required by law.
Sorry to say goodbye to your blueberries or is it about time? Tell us what you think of uniform changes at Navylet@navytimes.com.
Managing this uniform shift will be Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke, the Navy’s top personnel officer who oversees sailor’s seabags.
“Our sailors want uniforms that are comfortable, they want them to be lightweight and breathable and ultimately, they want fewer of them,” Burke said in a phone interview. “Our force really loves the Type III’s. Fleet feedback is that it’s lighter, it breathes good in hot weather climate, it’s got the right accessories for cold weather climates — and it just wears better.
“This is one where I think we can give our sailors quickly, as compared to starting from scratch, and relatively inexpensively because it’s already designed and in use.”
Burke acknowledges these changes will seem like yet more uniform upheaval to many. But he says this effort will lead to a smaller, more common sense seabag.
Woodland cammies are a tactical uniform that's typically worn by masters-at-arms and expeditionary sailors, like Seabees, SEAL and explosive ordnance disposal technicians, who deploy in detachments on missions around the globe and rarely wear their blue-and-grays.
Some 50,000 sailors are paid to maintain three sets of blue NWUs, at $215 a pair. Getting rid of this requirement would thus save the service around $10 million a year in organizational clothing costs for purchasing Type III's.
The switch to the green-and-tans is only part of the massive effort as the service works to redo it's seabag without the embattled blue-and-gray cammies, which were introduced in 2009.
The improved flame-resistant coveralls are being developed by Fleet Forces Command, which has been leading the efforts to replace the FRV coverall. That uniform was rapidly fielded in 2013 after it emerged that the NWU and the utility coveralls contained synthetic fibers that could melt onto a sailor in a fire.
It's likely to be years as the Navy develops and fields this new uniform. Officials said they're still working on a uniform prototype and it remains to be seen whether they'll be issued in the seabag or organizational clothing provided by commands.