July 17, 2012
By David E. Petzal
It’s just been announced that the Army is giving up on its Universal Camouflage Pattern, after pissing away $5 billion on uniforms, packs, and other gear that say “Here I am. Shoot me.”* This is one further reminder that even if something says “camo,” it may not conceal anything worth a damn. Last fall I bought a one-man blind to take to Maine with me. It was so small that if I farted inside it, there was not room for both me and the fart. The blind would blow away in any kind of a breeze, and worst of all, its popular Pellagra and Redbug camo pattern stood out like the proverbial turd in the proverbial punchbowl. I positioned it on a hillside, walked uphill to where the deer would cross, took a look at the wretched thing, and realized that if I hung a neon sign above it that said “FLEE!” and sprinkled a couple of pounds of wolf s*** around it, the effect would not be much worse than it already was. Fifty pounds or so of pine branches later, it was somewhat concealed, but not much.
I think that camo is largely a human conceit. Most animals, unlike people, are not visually oriented, and could care less what color your clothes are. When people wore red and black checkered wool suits they killed plenty of animals. African professional hunters, who work in close proximity to game all the time, wear whatever they damn please, and it makes no difference. European hunters, until recently, dressed entirely in dark green, and had no trouble getting game.
Animals react mainly to movement and scent. They are expert readers of body language. They also see well enough to deduce that if you are wearing Kudzu and Spanish Moss camo, and there is no kudzu or Spanish moss around, you do not belong there. The only two camo patterns I’ve seen that work well in a variety of settings are Cabela’s Outfitter, and the patterns used by Sleeping Indian and King of the Mountain. Otherwise, I believe, it’s mostly shuck and jive.
*The apogee of “Here I am, shoot me” occurred in 1965, when we got into Vietnam in a big way. The standard Army work and combat uniform, which was called “fatigues,” was dark green, which invariably faded to the color of new leaves. In itself, it was OK, but the Army insisted on decorating the uniform like a Christmas tree. Above the right breast pocket was a black and white tape with your last name, in case you forgot who you were. Above the left breast pocket was “U.S. Army” in black and gold, so you wouldn’t think you were a Marine. On your sleeves were big gold chevrons, if you were an NCO, and on your collar, if you were an officer, were your branch insignia and rank, in gold or white metal. This was so the NVA would know who to shoot first.
On your left shoulder was your division patch in garish colors (mine was scarlet and white) and on your right shoulder was the patch of the division with which you had served in wartime. Above the U.S. Army tape were awards such as Airborne wings (white) and the Combat Infantry Badge (blue and white). In my own case I had a Drill Sergeant’s patch (green, black, and gold) on my right breast pocket. As a final touch, we had white t-shirts and brass belt buckles.
Eventually, after a suitable number of soldiers had been killed, the Army toned all this down or eliminated it altogether, but ever since, when I hear them talk about camouflage, I snicker.
“What did you shine your boots with, trainee? A Hershey bar?”