Difference Between the BDU and ACU Field Uniforms

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Although field uniforms change from time to time, it's still the same old Army.

The Army changes its uniforms from time to time. In World War II and Vietnam, soldiers wore ODs, or Olive Drab dark green or olive green canvas clothing. The ODs were often quite thick and consisted of single-ply fabric. Since the Vietnam War, a number of new field uniforms have come into vogue and then consequently been removed from service. The field uniform that civilians are most familiar with is the forst patterned BDU or Battle Dress Uniform; this woodland camouflage uniform can be seen worn as utility clothing by tradesmen, hunters, and laborers. The BDU was completely removed from Army service by 2008, but some Air Force and Navy units still utilized the BDU as of 2010 (although these branches had introduced the tiger stripe and digital field uniforms respectively).

Other uniforms utilized since Vietnam include the 6-Color DCU or Desert Camouflage Uniform (affectionately referred to by soldiers as Chocolate Chips for the brown specs on it and worn during Operation Desert Storm), the 3-Color DCU (a desert uniform worn during the early part of OIF/OEF or Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom), and the current ACU (Army Camouflage Uniform) utilized by soldiers on duty and in theater. Just after I left Basic Training to serve with the 310 PSYOP (Psychological Operations Company) in 2007, I met some soldiers from the 2nd MedCom (Medical Command) at building 900 on Ft. Gillem that were still wearing DCUs. All soldiers, however, now wear the ACU field uniform.

The OD Greens, 6-Color DCU, 3-Color DCU, and BDU uniforms are all constructed similarly. Each uses buttons as fasteners and features a tailored and sharp appearance. These uniforms generally consist of thick and durable single-ply fabric, and they can put up with a great deal of abuse before wearing out. This makes them great training and field uniforms. Unfortunately, although BDUs were noted for being durable and yet breathable in the field, they were a nightmare in garrison. Their status as a high-maintenance uniform meant that they were required to be pressed and starched in garrison. BDUs were also paired with black leather boots, and these were required to be highly shined when not in the field.

The current ACU uniform bears nothing in common with the old BDU; the new uniform is baggy and can make even a 138-pound soldier like myself look like a football player. Instead of button closure, the ACU features velcro "hook and loop" closure for pockets and zipper fasteners for the jacket. While the BDU has 6 pockets, the ACU has 12 and also includes slots in which knee and elbow pads can be inserted. Most of the ACU also utilizes double absorbent two-ply fabric; it is paired with maintenance-free tan suede desert boots. The ACU is a digital print, and a close inspection reveals that the print is in three colors of faded green and light tan. The uniform is intended to take on the color of its environment and to hide soldiers in urban combat. Overall, however, the ACU has failed to measure up to the standards of durability set by the BDU. One advantage it does have is that rank, unit, name, and flag patches can all be removed and replaced at will via velcro, while the old BDU required sewing the patches on and ripping them off.

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Posted on Oct 31, 2011