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The Desert Hat That Helped Us Win

Sunday, 01 June 2003 12:00 AM

Desert Camouflage Hat
Click here to order a Desert Camouflage Hat

America won the war in Iraq, and for a time, it seemed that our greatest enemy was not Saddam’s loyalists but Mother Nature.

As American and coalition combat troops moved relentlessly north across the barren Iraqi desert, they were met with stiff resistance from fierce sandstorms, an unvanquished sun and extreme heat.

The answer to these elements was the Desert Camouflage Hat – known in Army lingo as the desert boonie hat.

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First developed for American GIs fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, the hat has been modified for several climatic and terrain conditions.

One memory Americans have of Operation Iraqi Freedom is the troops dressed in desert camouflage suits and the embedded journalists wearing trusted boonie caps.

There were also hot Kevlar helmets, but our troops in the simple headgear of camouflage desert boonies enjoyed the broad floppy brim, usually cocked at a jaunty angle, low over the eyes with the straps fastened not at the chin but at the nape of the neck.

There was something remarkably all-American about the young non-commissioned officers’ “cover,” which is what Marines call anything that adorns the head.

The desert camouflage boonie might have reminded many of the Stetson cowboy hats the Air Cavalry pilots sported in Vietnam.

And, of course, there was John Wayne’s dusty number with the curled-back brim that the icon wore in such classics as “Fort Apache” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

Of course, the desert boonie, or “Army DCU (Desert Camouflage Utility) hat,” or “Hat Camouflage Desert (H20256)” is not new to the American armed forces. A version of the latest edition was worn in the first war against Saddam in 1991.

But more than a decade ago, the Desert Storm camouflage pattern in utility uniform and hat consisted of six colors. The Iraqi Freedom version is a three-color camouflage pattern.

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Perhaps because combat operations lasted just 72 hours and the desert was cooler in the winter of 1991, the hat seemed less necessary, less vital.

Fast-forward to the Iraqi desert of 2003, and American troops became dependent on their boonies, which saved them from blazing sun, blowing sand and dust, and easy visibility to enemy troops.

America has had some experience with dressing for combat.

The regulation three-color modern boonie is 50 percent nylon/50 percent cotton rip-stop material that makes tearing almost impossible.

The hat even features side vent holes with mesh screen, relieving the head in extreme temperatures while protecting from unwanted particles.

Also featured is a nylon chin drawstring with leather fastener. The most common sizes range from small to extra-large. The whole desert boonie package is pretty cool – literally and figuratively.

And coolness counts with young warriors. Whether in Saudi, Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan or Iraq, the Desert Camouflage Hat is the headgear of choice when not wearing a helmet.

De rigueur with the desert boonie “look” are the sunglasses of choice. It’s all about protection – try working on the tarmac at the airstrip, where the temperature can reach 120 degrees and boil your brains.

As preached by the Army medics and Marine corpsmen, rule No. 1 in desert survival is to stay hydrated and expose as little skin as possible.

The skin must be protected from heat, ultraviolet rays, blowing sand, insects and water loss. “A hat is an absolute necessity,” says the manual, and the desert boonie, with its broad brim, is ideal.

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In tandem with the use of sunglasses and goggles, the ubiquitous desert headgear helps protect against blinding ultraviolet keratitis and painful corneal abrasions from blowing sand.

And speaking of things that remain the same: You can bet that most soldiers and Marines who were issued boonie camouflage hats in Vietnam and the first Gulf War might have long ago tossed all the other souvenirs of those conflicts – but they still have that remarkable signature hat.

Some day that young sergeant who welcomed a lost and fearful journalist will pull his ancient desert boonie out of the attic or closet and perch it on his son’s head.

He will see his own pride reflected in the look in the child’s eyes.

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Click here to order a Desert Camouflage Hat America won the war in Iraq, and for a time, it seemed that our greatest enemy was not Saddam's loyalists but Mother Nature. As American and coalition combat troops moved relentlessly north across the barren Iraqi desert, they...
Sunday, 01 June 2003 12:00 AM
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