Pentagon running out of desert uniforms for soldiers in the Persian Gulf

January 23, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

The American military appears to have enough missiles, bombs and planes for the war against Iraq, but not enough desert uniforms.

Many service personnel headed to the Middle East have been forced to do their own shopping at military surplus stores across the country, snatching up desert-style uniforms -- including the protective floppy hats known as "boonies" and lightweight desert combat boots -- and, in some cases, gas masks.

"The supply system hasn't been able to keep up with deployments," a Pentagon source says.

A few days after he landed in the Persian Gulf war zone in December, Ronald Raab Jr., an Army communications specialist, wrote home to Baltimore asking for a few odds and ends -- toilet paper, foot ointment and a new uniform.

The Army had provided Raab with an olive green uniform, not the desert camouflage model that Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the Allied commander, and most of the ground troops wear.

"I stand out like a sore thumb," Raab told his mother in the letter. "If something goes on down here, I'm going to get my head blowed [sic] off."

After checking a dozen stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Mary and Ronald Raab Sr. finally found two desert-style uniform tops and a floppy hat at a cost of about $100, she said.

"I knew [Operation Desert Storm] was thrown together quick and fast," said Mrs. Raab, who lives in Overlea. "But I was surprised they didn't have enough."

A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Cogan, declined comment on the uniform supply situation.

"I know our troops were not issued desert 'cammies' before they left," said Mike Milord, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard. "I'm not sure why."

Military personnel can wear uniforms bought privately as long as it has a label showing it has been approved by the government, pTC Milord said.

It is not clear how necessary the desert uniforms are for troops serving in the gulf, but the situation does reflect the anxiety service personnel are feeling.

"For a lot of the reservists [being called up], there's not enough gear to go around so they're buying their own gear," said Debbie Jordan, manager of the G.I. Joe's surplus store in San Diego. "Guys are coming in with desert [uniforms] that are way too big or way too small so it doesn't sound like they have the supply."

Some surplus stores in the Baltimore area have reported a similar buying spree by American military personnel.

One Sunny's Surplus store reported selling "lots" of desert fatigues and lightweight Israeli combat boots to servicemen.

When the war broke out, Frank Zaback, owner of the Dover, Del., Army-Navy Store Inc., ordered a dozen desert camouflage outfits in each size. He has only a few left.

He said Dover was filled with soldiers waiting to fly to the gulf.

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