A second revelation: This comes as no surprise to the Navy. "We knew when we designed this uniform that it wasn't flame-resistant," said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy's top spokesman. "When we were making the uniform, sailors wanted a uniform that was comfortable, that didn't require maintenance and would stand up under a lot of washing, and one of the ways to get that is a nylon-cotton blend," Kirby said. "We realize that nylon does not react well to flame, but again, there was no requirement for a fire-resistant uniform in a working environment."
The Navy released findings in December of an impromptu test that showed that - unlike the Army and Marine Corps working uniforms - its working uniform is not designated flame-resistant and "when subjected to a flame, it will burn robustly until completely consumed." The Type I NWU, as it's known, is half cotton and half nylon. The nylon component "is a thermoplastic fiber that melts and drips as it burns," the report said. "If this sticky molten material came in contact with skin, it would contribute to increased burn injury."
Navy admirals said the uniform was never meant to be flame-retardant and there is fire gear throughout any ship in case sailors are exposed to flames. Only sailors with specific jobs such as airman, engineer or firefighter and those in combat are required to have fire-resistant clothing. Kirby noted that the Army and Marine uniforms are geared toward combat and the dangers of roadside bombs. That said, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, Chief of Naval Personnel and president of the Navy's Uniform Board, announced in a message to commanders on Dec. 12 that Fleet Forces commander Adm. Bill Gortney, working closely with Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Cecil Haney, has established working groups to review the fleet's uniform needs and to consider whether these uniforms do the job.
Buskirk said he also has expanded the Navy's uniform board, adding the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command and the Naval Safety Center as technical advisers to the board. The test on the working uniform last month was conducted during research on materials and equipment at the Navy's safety center in Massachusetts. Kirby said one of the testers took it upon himself to check the flammability of the NWU. A video of the test, which the Navy posted online, shows the uniform quickly burning when exposed to flame. "Nobody asked for these tests," Kirby said. "Now that we have the results of this particular test - obviously, we are not surprised the fabric did not react well to flame - but now that we have specifics... we are going to take another look." Admirals, including Buskirk, Kirby and Gortney, all said they were still comfortable that the uniforms are appropriate to wear in the right environment.