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ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — More than six years after sending the first Stryker armored vehicles into desert combat, the Army has decided that it’s probably a good idea to start painting them tan so they will blend in with the environments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Safeguarding soldiers is the primary purpose for this color change,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Peter Butts, commander of the 1st Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade, who announced the change in a news release from Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, earlier this month. “Strykers will blend into surroundings better. They’re less likely to stand out like silhouettes.”

Since 2003, Stryker units deploying to Iraq have done so with their vehicles painted in deep green, while most other units deployed with tan vehicles. The 5th Stryker Brigade, from Fort Lewis, Wash., which deployed to Kandahar and Zabul provinces this past summer, did so with its vehicles painted the standard color. They are the first Strykers to go into Afghanistan.

Over the years, there’s been no satisfactory answer for the difference. The Army and its contracting agencies have been talking about changing the color of the Strykers since 2004, according to Butts, “but nothing firm was planned out until now.”

“New operational direction and command guidance was pushed to make it happen,” he said, in a follow-up e-mail exchange with Stars and Stripes. “For soldier safety, first and foremost, as well as materiel uniformity.”

Soldiers in the field will not be authorized to repaint the Strykers themselves. That can only be done in authorized facilities in Qatar, if the vehicles are sent back for repairs and retrofit, said Butts.

“The phase-out tempo will be set by unit repair and retrofit needs,” he said.

And until the Army decides to make desert tan its standard color for all Strykers, they will continue rolling off the production line in Michigan and Canada all one color: green.

“But we are starting to change the deployed units to desert tan at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar,” Butts said.

With U.S. forces now mostly confined to their bases in Iraq and drawing down, it’s unclear how changing the color of the Strykers to tan is going to benefit those soldiers at all. But with the war in Afghanistan heating up, soldiers with a Stryker unit there welcomed the news — even if it has taken more than five years for the Army to make the change.

“I probably think it’s a good idea,” said Lt. Col. Burton Shields, commander of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, which is posted at Forward Operating Base Wolverine in Zabul province.

“We’re in the desert, so it does seem like it would blend in better with the environment.”

That sentiment was shared in the lower ranks as well, even if none of the soldiers had ever actually seen one of the new tan vehicles.

“I wouldn’t mind it being tan,” said Pfc. Victor Pastrana, 25, of Philadelphia. “Because it would stop sticking out like a sore thumb when you’re parked up on a patrol base. It’s about time.”

Spc. Kyle Rehkamp, 21, of Covington, Ky., agreed. “I think it’d be a great improvement. It’s like he said, they stick out on operations and are easily spotted.”

Pvt. Charles Kokesh, 23, of Binghamton, N.Y., said he also believes that tan-colored Strykers would blend in better with the desert surroundings.

“There’s nothing green out here next to these mountains,” he said.

Stars and Stripes editor Patrick Dickson contributed to this story.

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