In 2004 and 2005, U.S. Army units began receiving the new ACU (appropriately, Army Camouflage Uniform) field uniform for duty. The previous uniform, the BDU (Battle Dress Uniform), a woodland camouflage pattern, was moved into the decommissioning phase and would be removed from service and sent to the DRMO (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) or other organizations by 2008 and 2009. Some soldiers embraced the new uniform, but others donned it with a great deal of reluctance. One year spent training in BDUs and four years training in ACUs has enabled this writer to gather a great deal of data about the field performance of the Army's new look.
The ACU pattern consists of a printed digital camouflage (pixilated square blobs) in three colors: tan, pale blue-green, and a darker shade of blue-green. The intention of this uniform is to serve in desert urban environments (notably, Iraq). Notably, the passive color of the uniform is an intentional feature designed to allow it to take on the color of its environment. This is an eloquent way of saying that the uniform picks up dirt easily.
New uniforms differ from the old in a number of ways. Instead of the sharp cut and tailored appearance of the BDU, the ACU makes soldiers appear to be hulking monsters. I weigh 137 pounds and am 5 feet 7 inches tall (not even close to monstrous), but I've been asked if I played football more than once while wearing the ACU. This particular feature is less than popular with female soldiers not desiring clothing that makes them appear larger.
The method of closure on the ACU is completely different than the BDU (which used buttons exclusively). The fly of the ACU pants is button closure, the jacket front is zipper and velcro closure, and the remainder of the uniform is velcro closure. There are some pros and cons to this. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the rapid swapping capability; all patches, rank, and names can be removed and replaced in a matter of seconds, while the BDU required these items to be sewn on. The ACU is also a low-maintenance uniform, and does not require pressing, starching, or shining.
The biggest problem with the ACU is endurance. The uniform does not hold up well to the wear and tear of a field environment (one like what many soldiers experience in training and deployment). The velcro wears out rapidly within a period of 3-6 months, meaning that uniforms must be exchanged 2 to 4 times within a typical deployment. Sand is particularly abrasive to the closure of the uniform. The fabric is also lighter duty and gets holes in it much faster than the old BDU.