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Border Patrol uniform chic
For the first time in roughly 55 years, U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector have a new look.
Area agents began wearing a new, more tactical uniform this past week.
Though similar in its olive green color to the previous duty uniform, the new uniform is a more like a military uniform and less like a police officer’s duty garb.
It is also made from a lighter, more durable material, which is supposed to be more comfortable and less likely to rip or tear.
"The old uniform wasn't very practical for the type of work we do out in the field," said Border Patrol agent Eric Anderson. "The change is to a more duty-functional uniform."
The change in uniform is part of an agency-wide program. The redesign is only the second major uniform change since the agency was created in 1924 and the first since the 1950s.
While agents started wearing the new uniform Wednesday, it will become mandatory beginning in October.
Anderson explained the new uniforms - in the works for three years at a cost of $7.5 million to outfit 14,000 agents - are designed to better meet the needs of the agents who patrol the border.
Another significant features of the new uniform is larger, more accessible cargo-style pockets on the pants, which allow the agents to carry more gear.
Also, the old duty belt, which was made of leather, has been replaced by one made of nylon.
The new nylon duty belt, which is designed as a quick-release belt, is intended to prevent agents from drowning. Loaded with flashlights and other gear, the heavier leather belts made it more difficult to stay afloat.
Four agents have drowned since 2003, most recently in May in the Coachella Canal in the southeastern California desert. Yuma sector agent James Epling drowned in the Colorado River on Dec. 16, 2003, while attempting to chase four suspected illegal immigrants. He had already helped save the life of an illegal immigrant from China.
Other changes include a brighter, sewn-on badge that eliminates the need for agents to wear the old shiny brass badge. The metal name tag has also been replaced with a detachable cloth patch with the agent's name embroidered on it.
The advantage of no longer having the brass badge or name tags on the new uniform, Anderson said, is that they used to reflect the sun and moon, which could make the agents more visible. The old brass name tags and badges could also come off during daily operations.
Anderson added that the response to the new uniforms by agents has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I have not heard any negative complaints yet," Anderson said.
He went on to say that the new uniforms and equipment may serve as a morale booster.
"It may make people want to do their job better," Anderson stated.
The makeover comes shortly after the Border Patrol switched to a lighter .40-caliber handgun. The new holster is a plastic loop, instead of a leather snap, which was prone to stretching.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. The Associated Press contributed to this report.