The Importance of Camouflage

When I went through basic training, I spent a lot of time practicing camouflage and concealment. We had lessons on the principles of concealment, practical sessions on how to use cam cream, and plenty of chances to practice collecting foliage and tucking it into our helmets and webbing. Every night in the field we dug shell scrapes to sleep in, and they were camouflaged too.  Camouflage was taken very seriously, and failure to keep your cam cream fresh and your outline broken up with tufts of grass and bracken would get you a serious rifting from the training NCOs.

Then I spent 14 years in the field army and never used any of it.

On all my operational tours we were working out of permanent locations, which relied on surveillance, firepower and physical barriers for security instead of concealment. Most movement was by vehicle, and if I was out on foot I was operating openly among the civilian population. In six operational deployments I didn’t use my camouflage and concealment training once.

I wasn’t in the infantry, but even they tended to have a pretty high profile. When you’re moving around in an MRAP there isn’t much point in trying to be covert. Troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan tend to accept being overt, and protect themselves by maintaining situational awareness and, when it’s needed, massive fire support.

CamoThat works when the enemy is a low-tech insurgency like the Taliban or most of the Iraqi groups, but against a real military it’s a non-starter. The Ukrainians found that out a couple of years ago: If the Russians know where you are, artillery is going to happen – and a Russian fire mission isn’t half a dozen wildly inaccurate 107mm rockets. Get located in a real war and you will be absolutely malleted. Real artillery will reduce your manpower faster than an Obama presidency; if you want to be ready to play at proper war, camouflage skills are as essential as ever.

Most soldiers have a split personality about camouflage. Put them in a light infantry role and they’ll happily stay covert for days at a time. But give them a vehicle, or put them in a static location, and it all goes out the window. That doesn’t work. A moving vehicle is always going to be pretty obvious, but whenever you stop for more than a few minutes the nets should go up and all reflective surfaces – glass, lights – should be covered with hessian. The same goes for any sort of shelter or location you’re in. Hide it; that way nobody’s going to wake you up with regiment’s worth of 152mm HE. Set up nets, maintain light discipline and pay attention to details. The US Marine Corps recently found out that razor wire reflects enough light to show up on Google Earth; if you’re putting out wire, run it under trees, or mask it with vegetation. Put airlocks on tent doors to keep light in, too.

For various reasons, camouflage and concealment haven’t been priorities in the recent wars we’ve fought, but they’re skills that have to be maintained. If a high intensity war breaks out that’s a really bad time for on the job training. It’s very positive that the Marine Corps are shifting the emphasis of their training back to traditional soldiering skills. Every commander should be doing the same in their own training.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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1 thought on “The Importance of Camouflage

  1. A timely reminder, especially in light of some of the amazingly stupid decisions made about what constitutes camouflage in uniform design in recent years. Whoever decided that the ACU universal camo would work in any environment other than a building site should have been required to wear it on the front line ahead of the troops he was putting in harm’s way. And what about the Marines? “We have the best camo, bu the rest of you cant wear it because we have copyrighted it.”. If its the best, why would you deny it to others fighting under the same flag?

    And then there is the Multicam/Scorpion fiasco. The British, Australians and others are prepared to pay Crye to develop adaptations of Multicam, but the US Army is too cheap, so it resurrects an old version to save money! All this happens against a background of huge waste in R&D in the aviation and maritime defense environments.

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