I used to have a difficult time determining the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite when visiting caves. It wasn’t until I came up with a mnemonic device for myself that I could remember the difference. A stalactite has the letter “c” in it, and it comes down from the cave ceiling.

I had the same problem determining the difference between “ASU” and “ACU”. Which uniform is which?

This week’s acronyms are all about Army uniforms. A Soldier’s uniform can tell you a lot about their military career. As mentioned previously, for an entire dictionary and list of acronyms, visit www.dtic.mil/doctrine/dod_dictionary.


The Army Combat Uniform is what you’ll see most of the time walking around Fort Bragg. The ACU replaced the Desert Camouflage Uniform used from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s. There have been three ACU patterns.

The MultiCam pattern has been used by various militaries around the world. It was first designed in 2002 for the U.S. Army. In 2004, the Operational Camouflage Pattern was chosen over the MultiCam as the way forward with ACU patterns, however, the MultiCam was recommissioned in 2010 to be used for troops deploying to Afghanistan. This MultiCam pattern received a new name: Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern.

MultiCam is also available commercially.

The Universal Camouflage Pattern, also referred to as “digicam” is a pattern done in pixelated shapes and colors.

Digicam is controversial in that field testing wasn’t completed for all environments. In short, the digicam pattern does not blend in well with some environments.

In 2014, the Army announced a new pattern, and Soldiers will have to fully switch their ACUs over to the new pattern by September 2019.

The Operational Camouflage Pattern, occasionally referred to as “Scorpion,” is the newest pattern in the ACU lineup. It is a similar pattern to the MultiCam. The OCP ACU will have to be worn by every Soldier in the Army by September 2019.

The ACU consists of Army combat boots, headgear, trousers, a t shirt and a jacket. All Soldiers wear their names and ranks on the front of their jackets, and chaplains are allowed to wear their insignia above their name tapes.

Skill badges for schools such as Air Assault and Airborne are worn above the U.S. Army name tape. The U.S. flag is worn on the right shoulder pocket flap.

On the left shoulder pocket flap, skill tabs such as Ranger, Sapper and Special Forces tabs can be worn. Unit patches are worn on the left shoulder pocket. Tabs such as Airborne, are unit-dependent and can be worn with unit patches on the pocket.

By looking at a Soldier in their ACU, you’ll know their last name, rank, unit and any skill training they may have had.


The Army Service Uniform is what Soldiers wear during formal occasions. The current “dress blues” replaced the Army green service uniform in 2010. Blue trousers with a blue-black top make up the tailored look of the ASU.

The ASU will give the viewer even more information about the Soldier if they know how to decipher the many stripes along the cuffs and awards. For example, Soldiers with the rank of corporal and above wear a gold braided stripe down each leg of the trousers. An enlisted Soldier’s rank is displayed on the upper sleeves, whereas officers have their ranks on their shoulder boards.

A blue cord on the right shoulder indicates the Soldier is infantry. A red and green cord, known as a fourragere, worn on the left shoulder indicates the Soldier is a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Unit insignia can be found on the shoulder boards.

Foreign badges can be found on the right breast, above the name plate, and Combat Service Identification Badges can be found on the lower right side. The CSIB identifies a Soldier’s combat service with their major U.S. Army formations. For example, someone from the 82nd Airborne Division would wear the Division crest.

On the left side of the uniform, you’ll find the Soldier’s awards and ribbons. If you ever hear a Soldier talking about someone’s “chest salad,” these ribbons are what they are referring to. Each ribbon has a special meaning.

Marksmanship and skill badges can be found on this side of the uniform as well.

Want to know roughly how long someone has been in the Army? Look at their left sleeve cuff. For every three years, a Soldier is awarded a new “hash mark.” You can also determine how long the Soldier has been deployed for by looking at their right sleeve. Each Overseas Service Stripe equals six months of deployment time.

You can read a Soldier’s entire career from their uniform. And as for a mnemonic to help distinguish the two? It’s right there in the acronym for ACU — the “c” for “combat” can also be remembered as “c” for camouflage.