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Army awards $2M contract for next-generation dress uniforms

Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley stands with Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey prior to walking out onto the field for the beginning of the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania December 9, 2017. Standing with them in front of the games color guard were Soldier models who along with the SMA are wearing the proposed Pink & Green daily service uniform. (Ron Lee/U.S. Army)

American Woolen Co. has secured $2 million in funding for its work supplying polyester and wool-blend fabric for the U.S. Army’s next-generation dress uniforms.

The local textile firm, based out of the historic Warren mill on Furnace Avenue, first signed a deal in 2019 to weave material for the retro “Army Greens” commissioned by the Pentagon. The latest cash infusion was made possible by the CARES Act — Congress’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package — with the aim of sustaining production during especially trying times, company officials announced Tuesday.

“This grant will enable American Woolen to make the critical investments required to strengthen its value proposition,” said CEO Jacob Harrison Long. “We are excited about the future of premium textile manufacturing in New England.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, an early backer of American Woolen whose congressional district encompasses Stafford, praised the new agreement as a victory for the community.

“This new investment to keep production of U.S. Army uniforms here at home, in eastern Connecticut, will help ensure that the men and women of our armed services have the resources they need no matter what,” Courtney said. “This is a win for our troops, and it’s another big win for American Woolen. They’ve absolutely earned it.”

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The new Army dress suit, officially known as the Army Green Service Uniform, is intended to evoke the iconic “pinks and greens” donned by American soldiers during World War II. The ensemble includes an olive drab field coat, a pale green dress shirt, khaki trousers, and a high-waist belt.

Military bands, recruiting units, and other high-visibility troops are already wearing early versions of the uniform, and they will soon become the new standard for officers and the rank-and-file.

The throwback look comes as the armed forces attempt to shed an increasingly casual, battle-ready image after almost two decades of wars waged on some of the harshest terrain on the planet.

As a byproduct of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans have become accustomed to seeing active-duty service personnel dressed in camouflage fatigues and boots, even in professional settings that used to call for a jacket and tie. But with far fewer soldiers now deployed to demanding combat theaters, the Pentagon is hoping to reintroduce some of the flourishes and style that became synonymous with Army attire in the 1940s and ‘50s, when American military prestige and power was at its height.

The uniforms are expected to replace the traditional dark blue blazer and blue pants currently worn by members of the Army in formal settings. That outfit, adopted from the civilian business world in the early 1960s, became increasingly common as the World War II-era “greens” fell out of fashion in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and today are often confused with “dress blues” worn by the Marines or similar uniforms employed by the Navy and some police departments.

American Woolen purchased the 167-year-old Warren mill facility in 2014 following the departure of its former owner, Italian clothier Loro Piana.

The company supplies worsted and woolen fabrics to customers such as J. Crew, and since 2016 has branched out into more exotic materials, including camelhair and cashmere.

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© 2020 Journal Inquirer