A. Overview

The commitment of US forces to the Kuwait Theater of Operations in support of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm (ODS/DS) required the rapid, large-scale deployment and build-up of troops and equipment to Southwest Asia from the continental United States and Europe. Because much of this equipment, particularly from the US Army’s Germany-based VII Corps, arrived in-theater painted in woodland camouflage colors, Central Command directed that units repaint their equipment with tan CARC to enhance troop and equipment survivability. The US Army XVIII Airborne Corps painted a significant portion of its combat vehicles tan prior to deployment. For this reason, CARC painting in the Kuwait theater of operations focused mostly on the VII Corps vehicles.

From the early planning stages, the US military anticipated that only a limited number of vehicles would be painted with tan CARC. There were three primary constraints: 1) the urgent massing of combat power in tactical assembly areas could not be slowed by painting operations; 2) the existing paint-application capability of the Army Materiel Command (AMC) could not be expanded to paint every vehicle in theater; and 3) the existing supplies of CARC were limited. VII Corps established painting priority to combat vehicles (i.e., Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and engineer breaching equipment), as well as to command and control vehicles (i.e., M577 tracked command vehicles and M113 armored personnel carriers).[46]

The shortage of CARC was a key issue of concern. VII Corps considered two options. The first option was to paint as many of the lead or first vehicles in theater as possible, and hope that additional CARC would become available for later-arriving units. The second option was to paint only priority vehicles from lead units and save enough CARC to paint the priority vehicles of units arriving later. If more CARC than anticipated arrived, CARC would be sent to the tactical assembly areas to paint lower priority vehicles that had already passed through the port. VII Corps selected the second option.[47,48]

The port support authority and the port assistance task force (TF), TF North, assisted the Army Materiel Command and the 325th Maintenance Company as they established the paint site in Al Jubayl. They informed units of the process to prepare and paint vehicles, and they coordinated support provided to the civilian and military painters.[49]

The increasing supply of CARC to the theater eventually allowed almost all tracked vehicles on the list of priority vehicles to be painted. Eventually units were given the latitude to allocate CARC to other vehicles.[50]

By the time large-scale painting at the port ceased in February, the original mission given by the VII Corps commander had been achieved—3,500 priority vehicles painted—without slowing the movement of units into tactical assembly areas. In addition, 5,000 other vehicles were painted.

The port support authority sent 4,700 gallons of paint to the tactical assembly areas to paint additional vehicles. Army Materiel Command provided technical experts to short-term paint sites in the tactical assembly areas, including sites in the 1st Armored Division sector and one in the 3rd Armored Division sector.[51] The VII Corps Artillery, the 7th Engineer Brigade, and Detachment 1 of the 101st Military Intelligence Battalion, as well as the 207th Military Intelligence Brigade and 14th Military Police Brigade, were also provided with equipment and supplies to finish their priority vehicles in their tactical assembly areas. Brushes, rollers, and safety masks were purchased locally by the port support authority.[52] Table 1 shows the number of VII Corps vehicles, by unit, that were painted with tan CARC as of February 14, 1991.[53]

Table 1. CARC painting tally as of February 14, 1991


Tracked Vehicles Painted

Wheeled Vehicles Painted

Total Painted

1st Armored Division




2nd Armored Division (Forward)




3rd Armored Division




Corps Artillery




7th Engineer Brigade




2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment








B.  Painting Protocol During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Before Operation Desert Shield began, a well-established set of regulatory guidance existed detailing the procedures for vehicle painting and safety and occupational health requirements. Army technical manuals of that period required that CARC be applied to all combat, combat support, and combat service support equipment. To assure the most effective CARC protection, approved directions for surface preparation involved the following steps: 1) remove loose paint by light sandblasting; 2) wash cleaned areas with a specified liquid detergent cleanser; 3) allow surface to thoroughly dry; and 4) clean surface with solvent within four hours of detergent wash.[54] However, this protocol was not followed during the Gulf War. Instead, vehicles received minimal surface preparation and CARC was applied to the existing coating.

Significant additional pre-war guidance existed in Army Technical Manual 43-0139, "Painting Instructions for Army Materiel." This includes descriptions and warnings of undercoats, finish materials, and related materials, drawings of proper paint patterns, vehicle inspection procedures, and descriptions of painting equipment.[55]

A number of command directives were issued dictating procedures for vehicle painting. Unit maintenance managers at all levels were periodically informed of the changing priorities and policies. As an example, a point paper written in the early stages of the US deployment listed several major potential hazards to avoid. Among them was the failure to properly follow established safety procedures when painting with CARC.[56]

A notable portion of the policy disseminated during Operations Desert Shield/Storm related to small scale, unit-level painting. This type of painting was limited to touchup, or spot-painting, using brushes or rollers. Policy dictated the use of at least half-face respirators with organic vapor cartridges, but medical surveillance during the operation was waived unless the painting operation exceeded 30 days. However, the wearers of respirators were to be fit-tested and medically cleared prior to beginning work. Spray painting, sand blasting, and power sanding was to be limited to large-scale maintenance operations. Policy also required workers and supervisors to review material safety data sheets before spot painting. The policy prohibited the use of solvents for surface preparation prior to spot painting.[57]

References to painting procedures at the division maintenance level is found in Gulf War military message traffic. Within VII Corps, tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, command and control vehicles (e.g., M577s and M113s), engineer breaching vehicles, fire support team vehicles (FSTV), and high mobility multi-wheeled vehicles (HMMWV) received priority at division maintenance spray sites. The unit owning the vehicles controlled the flow of the vehicles into the paint site,[58] not the unit painting the vehicles. Command guidance from Army Materiel Command explains that spray painting was only to be conducted in large maintenance areas to meet OSHA regulations, while unit level repainting was to be limited to brushes and rollers.[59]

In addition to the painting procedures applicable for painting ground vehicles, there was also a limited amount of instruction as to the proper way to paint Army aircraft. The high reflective desert-blending paint schemes for ground vehicles made aircraft three times more vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles. Therefore, the preferred CARC color for Army aircraft in the desert environment was either the low reflective green paint or the aircraft interior or exterior gray.[60]

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