Military Life

Why the US military has shoulder pockets on combat uniforms

In 2004, the U.S. Army unveiled its new combat uniform, complete with upgrades including wrinkle-free fabric and a digitized camouflage print. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) had many changes (18, in fact), but one of the troop favorites was the shoulder pocket.


Obviously, pockets themselves weren't new to military uniforms. The quintessential pant-leg cargo pocket was indispensable in the Korean War; as a result, cargo pockets have adorned military combat uniforms (and military-inspired fashion?) ever since. Pockets on the blouse were utilized during the Vietnam War, and after 9/11, they got fancy even more utilitarian.

"This isn't about a cosmetic redesign of the uniform," said Col. John Norwood, the project manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment. "It's a functionality change of the uniform that will improve the ability of Soldiers to execute their combat mission."

One of the favored changes was the addition of the shoulder pocket, which replaced the bottom pockets on the jacket after troops realized they couldn't access the front of their uniform while wearing body armor. The shoulder, however, was a handy location. The pockets were tilted forward and buttons were replaced with zippers for function and comfort in combat.

Also read: 5 ways US military combat uniforms have changed since Vietnam

Prior to the uniform change, troops in the field had been modifying their gear to include the shoulder pocket for years, including Desert Storm and the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

It's the perfect size for your sanity. (Image via Mil-Spec Monkey)

Regulations around the pocket only dictate that "articles carried in pockets do not protrude from the pocket or present a bulky appearance," so what's actually carried in them is up to the individual, but it gets fascinating. Users on reddit list everything from pens and notebooks, U.S. flag patches to hand out to local children, to candy...which got me thinking...

...what did you carry in your shoulder pocket? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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