By Kristine Favreau
Killeen Daily Herald
No longer needing to shine boots, alter patches, sew name tags or press uniforms, the new Army Advanced Combat Uniform is a boon for soldiers, but not for area dry cleaners.
The new "wash and wear" uniforms are at the root of a rapid decline in business for cleaners in Killeen and surrounding areas.
Prior to the introduction of the ACUs, soldiers were required to press and starch uniforms or have them professionally dry cleaned. Military members also were responsible for having name tags and patches sewn on their uniforms.
In response to the needs of soldiers, Killeen houses a large number of cleaners that rely on the business derived from Fort Hood.
Although the soldier's burden has been lessened by the lower maintenance uniforms, the change has created an adverse affect on area dry cleaners.
"We've lost 50 percent of business here, " said Hong Sun, manager of Halo Cleaners in Copperas Cove. "If we were making $20,000 before, now it's only $10,000."
Other cleaners who rely more on alterations and dry-cleaning for regular clothing have seen less of an immediate effect.
"We're not too worried since we do a lot of other business here," said Bernice Emmons of Chantz Cleaners in Killeen. "We're still seeing the old uniforms, though, since people haven't phased them out completely yet."
The uniforms feature a digitized print with Velcro for name tags and patches.
A wrinkle-free treatment has been applied to the uniforms, and starching or pressing causes them to become brittle, thereby eliminating the need for dry cleaning.
A one-time purchase of new patches and name tags is the only alteration expense for soldiers.
Although the initial cost of the ACUs is higher than the old uniforms, soldiers more than make up the difference in savings.
"I save at least $50 a month," said Sgt. Bobby Cargo, of Killeen. "And that's not even counting patches and sewing."
Current plans call for the ACUs to be fielded throughout the Army no later than December of 2007.
"We haven't phased over to the new uniforms yet," said Sgt. Alan Morris, a National Guard member based in Kempner. "I'm looking forward to it, and it's definitely a plus not having to deal with dry cleaning." Norris was dropping his battle dress uniforms off at Joy Cleaners in Cove for patches to be sewn on.
The owner of Joy Cleaners said business has decreased quite a bit, but soldiers are slowly starting to bring uniforms for repairs or even to be pressed.
Starching and alterations aren't the only casualities of the ACUs.
The uniforms come with no-shine desert boots, so cleaners who offer boot-shining have felt an additional crunch.
With more than 60 dry cleaners surrounding Fort Hood and nearly every one with a sign offering BDU cleaning, the loss of business has the potential to be devastating.
"Soldiers buy the Velcro patches here, but then we never see them again," Sun said.
"There is no repeat business."
Contact Kristine Favreau at firstname.lastname@example.org