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At Pentagon, is change in US Army attire a step back from a war footing?

An Army move from combat uniforms – donned in the wake of 9/11 – to dress at the Pentagon is meant to signal a change in military culture, from ‘muddy boots’ to ‘corporate.’

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Just as the US troop drawdown in Afghanistan announced by President Obama has been characterized as the beginning of the end of the war, the US Army is making a highly symbolic change that similarly signals an ebb in combat footing.

Starting next month, US Army servicemembers will no longer wear their Army Combat Uniform – or ACU’s, otherwise known as fatigues – around the halls of the Pentagon.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Pentagon-based soldiers began wearing their camouflage uniforms. It was one way of signaling that though not all forces were deployed to the conflicts overseas, the entire US military was at war.

It was then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker’s intent after he took the job in 2003 to “get people to realize that we are in combat,” says the US Army’s top noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler – and that the war “wasn’t going to get done with anytime soon.”

The current Army chief of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, decided that starting in July Army troops at the Pentagon will wear their ASUs – or Army Service Uniforms – considered business attire for troops.

“Everyone understands that we are at war,” Chandler said. “Everyone has been touched by it.” Now, he added, there is a gradual shift within the Pentagon to emphasize “the corporate part of the Army” as well.

This marks a key movement away from “this muddy boots culture that has pervaded everything” in the US military, says retired Col. Charles Allen, professor of cultural science at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

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