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The History of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU)

Battle Dress Uniforms are armed forces uniforms that were developed by the US for soldiers in every branch of the military to wear when going into battle, as opposed to working on post. This type of military camouflage was adopted for use in 1981, and then replaced, beginning in 2005, with clothing designed for each branch of the service. While the military has replaced these types of clothing, today’s hunter, paintballer, or outdoorsman prefers the camouflage clothing because it helps him attain that goal. Some federal, state or local agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency or SWAT teams, also wear BDUs during tactical operations.

The camouflage armed forces uniforms were first introduced in the US military when, in 1942, Marines began using military camouflage patterns when conducting beach and jungle operations. Those camouflage patterns turned out to be ineffective, so they were dropped until the Vietnam War.

In the 1960s, the Army began using the woodland pattern, based on the colors found in the natural wooded landscapes of Northern Europe. This pattern had been developed by the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) in 1948, and was used in a limited manner during the Vietnam War. Beginning in 1968, the US Marines adopted the woodland pattern as part of its standard issue. The pattern, made up of four interlocking colors, came in three different versions. The “Lowland” pattern featured mid green and brown shades with black, while the “Highland” pattern had a color scheme featuring brown as the dominant shade. A “Delta” pattern, similar to the “Highland” pattern, included black branches in its pattern design that appeared thicker than the Highland pattern. The Delta pattern was reportedly used in a limited manner by the US Marines in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam.

Following the Vietnam War, the official BDU was introduced in 1981. In addition to the woodland camouflage uniform, it was available in patterns that could be worn in wooded, jungle, or desert climates. By 1989, the camouflage clothing had completely replaced the olive drab military clothing that had been worn since the early 1950s. For most of the 1980s, the BDU was made of a cotton and nylon twill blend cloth. In 1989, the material was changed to a lighter-weight rip-stop cotton cloth.

In the early 1990s, as US military operations moved from a Northern European theater to the Middle East, the military introduced desert camouflage, often called “chocolate-chip camouflage” because of its six colors, including black and white. The Night Desert Camouflage BDU, which used the “nighttime desert grid”, was also introduced. These two types of camouflage patterns were used through the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War with Iraq then discontinued. In 1992, the DCU (with a pattern often referred to as “coffee stains” by military personnel) was introduced; it was used during operations in Somalia in 1993. The DCU has been used in both Afghanistan and Iraq since US troops started deploying in those countries beginning in 2001. In 2005, the military began phasing out the DCU to make use of new camouflage patterns and to begin differentiating between the branches of the military. The US Air Force will continue to wear BDUs until the fall of 2011. Select US Navy personnel will wear the woodland patterns until a new Navy woodland camouflage uniform is ready.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Army began replacing the DCU with the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU), which features a pattern known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern. The ACU is a neutral colored and patterned type of clothing that's designed to work well in all types of combat settings, including desert, woodland, and urban situations. If a combat situation arises in a snowy area, an all-white military jacket and bdu pant are chosen. The Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) is another option for military personnel.

The woodland M65 military jacket that can be found in military surplus stores is made from a polyester/cotton blend and is designed to be water resistant, although not water repellent. The M65 jacket features a nylon zipper with a storm flap, inside buttons that can be used to attach a quilted liner, a pull-out hood and a drawstring waist, and four large pockets with snaps. Bdu pants in woodland camouflage are also manufactured in a polyester/cotton twill blend, and has six pockets, four with button flaps. This camo trouser is double reinforced in the knee and the seat, and features felled inseam, outseam and seat seam. It also includes adjustable waist tabs.

Today, the military camouflage-patterned type of outerwear is particularly popular with hunters and other outdoorsmen. There are several types of outfits hunters can choose from that are either military surplus equipment or manufactured to closely mimic military-issued clothing. Some the camouflage patterns include a forest pattern, which focuses on deeper shades of greens and browns, with leaf and twig features incorporated in the pattern. Grass camouflage patterns resemble the greens and tans of grasslands, and take into account the shadowy movements of the grasses. Desert camouflage closely resembles the DCU, as well as the current ACU that is basic light tan fabric with darker tan splotches which blend well in desert and arid climates.

Most hunters and outdoorsmen, however, greatly prefer MultiCam camouflage, which blends well into all kinds of wooded environments. The MultiCam pattern allows the person wearing it to hide in a number of different environments, including desert and woodlands. MultiCam also performs well in different seasons and at different elevations, and in varying light conditions. The MultiCam pattern is beneficial as camouflage because its colors help hide a person’s shape and girth, allowing him to blend easily into his chosen background. The MultiCam woodland pattern combines seven colors, including brown, tan, dark green, lime green, and even a light pinkish shade. It’s a superb type of camouflage available to civilians, even while the military continues to use the pattern in uniforms for active duty personnel.