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48th the first to get new Army combat uniforms

48th the first to get new Army combat uniforms

By Gray Beverley

Telegraph Staff Writer

FORT STEWART – It started with an enlisted man making some suggestions for his unit and grew into a $2.4 billion plan to outfit the entire U.S. Army.

About two years after the project began, the 48th Brigade Combat Team of Georgia will become the first unit in the nation equipped with the next generation of combat dress.

\”Hey, they actually got my name spelled right!\” 24-year-old Spc. Chris Lebrescu of Warner Robins remembered thinking when issued the new uniform Tuesday. \”It\’s really light. It feels like I\’m wearing light (physical training) pants or pajamas.\”

The uniforms were made an inch and a half larger in every size, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Myhre, one of three designers on the project.

In all, 22 design changes were made, including a pattern of 1-centimeter pixels that blends in better with the environment, pockets tilted to be more accessible while wearing body armor, and elbow and knee pads.

The uniform includes zippers from YKK in Bibb County.

As part of the first full redesign since 1980, the new uniform also has features developed with women in mind. Myhre said those include placing the name tag two inches higher, to remove it from the chest area; a bi-swing, or special pleat, to accommodate a woman\’s chest and allow for maneuverability; and more room for a less form-fitting look.

The looser style and redesigned pockets help all soldiers, said 48th brigade commander Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver of Forsyth.

\”This is a lot more suited to a combat soldier,\” he said. \”It makes it easier to move and not get in a bind.\”

On his old uniform, Rodeheaver said, he ripped off the pockets from the bottom of the blouse and sewed them on the sleeves. When he was issued the old boots, the first thing he would do was wear them in the shower to make them softer, he said.

Designers of the new uniform took care of those concerns. The comfort and utility adjustments will give soldiers one less worry in the field, the general said.

\”It gives you a feeling that I can do what I\’ve got to do better,\” he said.

Rodeheaver said being issued combat gear moves the brigade one step closer to war, that \”each day it sinks in a little more.\” But, he said, the men and women of the 48th are proud to do their part in the war on terrorism, and being the first unit in the Army to wear the new uniform gives them extra reason to beam.

\”It\’s a reality check to the soldier, as well as a boost,\” Rodeheaver said.

Staff Sgt. Britt Smith of Dublin said he did a double-take when he didn\’t immediately recognize a colleague in the new colors.

\”I do have to say I like it,\” he said. \”I feel sporty. I feel good.\”

The Army previously issued a battle dress uniform, which is primarily green, and a desert camouflage uniform dominated by tan.

Now there\’s one color scheme, mixing desert sand brown, foliage green and urban gray, making the uniform usable throughout the world, officials said.

The new uniform will sell for between $75 and $85. (Most soldiers going into combat will receive the new uniform. Otherwise, officers must buy their own. Most enlisted men receive a clothing allowance.)

The old battle dress uniform went for about $60.

But both the Army and its soldiers are expected to save money with the new outfit. The Army will now have only one uniform for combat. And because starch is \”not authorized\” and pressing is unnecessary, the uniform should last longer, Myhre said.

For their part, soldiers will save on dry-cleaning costs and on not having to sew on patches.

Myhre, 39, started his work by researching new equipment for his Washington state-based unit. He was asked for input on a prototype that was only intended for his unit, Myhre said.

But the 10,000 test uniforms were so popular with troops overseas that some of the garb even \”disappeared\” from cleaning areas, he said.

Then, the uniform caught the eye of Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker while the four-star general was visiting Iraq in spring 2003.

\”Then from there, it just kind of took off,\” Myhre said.

Now Myhre, whose business card holder has the same pattern as the new uniform, works full time for the clothing and equipment folks. The uniform is now standard issue for the Army, which has made about 19,500 to date and is pumping out about 30,000 more every month, Myhre said. The uniform is expected to be fully distributed to troops throughout the world by December 2007.

Myhre said he\’s honored to be an enlisted soldier on the project, even if seeing thousands of uniforms in one place this week \”was a little bit of shock and awe.\”

\”I always kind of believed in the uniform,\” he said. \”I\’m still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.\”

But inside a nearby tent, brigade members let out a cheer when a fellow soldier arrived in new threads.

\”It\’s just one more thing that makes them walk a little taller,\” said Lt. Col. Richard Steele.

To contact Gray Beverley, call 744-4494, or e-mail gbeverley@macontel.com.