January 29, 2009:
As more U.S. troops head for Afghanistan, those who have already been there have one bit of good news; the new U.S. Army winter clothing (the "Generation III" set) really works. It keeps you warm, even if you are running around in freezing weather and working up a sweat. And it isn't bulky or itchy. It's good stuff.
Five years ago, the U.S. Army has been testing a new Winter clothing ensemble (officially called , generation III of the extended cold-weather system or Gen III ECWCS.) The new wardrobe handles temperatures from minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit to above freezing (45 degrees Fahrenheit, or -45 to 7 degrees Celsius). The wardrobe consists of an interchangeable twelve-piece clothing system that can be worn in layers depending on the weather and the mission. The layers are lightweight and use modern fibers that allow sweat to escape while keeping body heat in. All the clothing is commercially available for Winter sports and activities. The army is making bulk purchases. Only the items likely to be worn on the outside have to be given some kind of camouflage pattern.
The new Gen III ECWCS is actually lighter, and less bulky, than the older Winter clothing (Gen II ECWCS), and doesn't itch, like some of the GEN II stuff did. The GEN III items are also quieter. The older gear tended to "swish" at times, which at night would let the enemy know you were in the area. The GEN III gear consists of two long sleeve undershirts, an outer shirt and thermal pants, a fleece jacket, a water and wind resistant jacket and pants, a waterproof windbreaker, a waterproof cold weather jacket and pants, a neck gaiter, a face mask, and gloves designed to allow easy use of weapons and a cold weather parka and pants. The GEN III gear is lightweight, commercial grade stuff. The army basically went to see what was available for Winter sports (especially camping and mountain climbing), and adapted it to combat use. This meant making sure the clothing was compatible with body armor and other combat equipment troops would have to wear.
The army was following the experience of SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which has a budget for experiments in using civilian gear. SOCOM operators have been using civilian cold weather gear for years. Most troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been issued the new gear over the past two years, as part of the field testing program. Now everyone will get it.
It actually gets pretty cold and nasty in Iraq during the Winter. Even down south, after the sun goes down in January and February, the temperature often drops to below freezing. Up north, in the mountains, it gets much colder. But in Afghanistan, up in the mountains, it gets bitterly cold, similar to what you encounter in the North American Rocky Mountains, or Korea (where the troops finally got Gen III this Winter, and found the new gear able to withstand bitterly cold Winter weather common to South Korea.)