“Woobie” is a nickname given to U.S. military poncho liners. These liners are usually issued to troops who are deployed in the field, and are used to help them keep warm in cooler climates. The liner is constructed with polyester batting encased in two layers of quilted nylon. It also has tie-cords at the corners and sides so it can be tied through matching grommets on rain ponchos.
A search for the term “woobie” returns some interesting results. Several are advertisements to sell woobies and various woobie items. They range from regular poncho liners to jackets and even baby blankets made from woobie material.
Others results are articles that wax downright sentimental about them. Alternately referred to as a “very useful piece of equipment,” a “beloved piece of field gear,” and “the greatest military invention ever fielded,” this begs several questions: Why does the woobie inspire such high praise from so many service members, both active and former? How could a simple poncho liner come to mean so much to the men and women it is issued to? What is so special about the woobie?
History of the Woobie
The history of the woobie is part of the history of ponchos in the U.S. military. The following is a very brief timeline of the introduction of ponchos as standard field equipment:
- Ponchos were first used by the military during this period in American history.
- Irregular U.S. military forces assigned to patrol the Western Plains were issued ponchos.
- These were made of a material called “gutta-percha muslin,” or muslin coated with India rubber, which rendered it waterproof.
1861 to 1965
- During the Civil War, ponchos made from gutta-percha muslin were issued as official field gear.
- These could be used both as waterproof ground sheets for sleep and to protect soldiers’ clothing during rain.
1865 to 1898
- In the years after the end of the Civil War, the poncho ceased to be issued as standard equipment.
1898 to 1900
- With the onset of the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine-American War two years later, the Army resumed the issue of ponchos as official field gear.
- Ponchos were now made of rubberized canvas.
1917 to 1918
- After the United States joined its allies to fight in World War I, ponchos were issued to troops.
- Soldiers and Marines preferred ponchos over raincoats because ponchos could cover both wearer and pack, and could also be used to create a makeshift shelter in the field.
- Stationed in the jungles of Panama, the U.S. Army Jungle Experimental Platoon made significant improvements to the poncho.
- Nylon replaced rubberized canvas, and a drawcord hood was also added.
1941 to 1945
- During World War II, Ponchos were widely used by U.S. troops in the field.
- The addition of the drawcord hood allowed soldiers more protection from the elements.
- Lightweight coated nylon and other synthetic materials were developed and used to make military ponchos.
- From this time on, ponchos became a standard piece of U.S. military field equipment.
Around 1962, new poncho liners were introduced, and special forces troops in Vietnam were the first to use them. Made of light and quick-dry materials that could packed into small spaces, these liners replaced the standard-issue Army wool blanket, which was completely unsuited for use in the wet, tropical Vietnamese climate.
Soon, other troops deployed to Vietnam quickly adopted the liners, which provided a comfortable amount of warmth during cool tropical nights, and quick drying and easy storage during the day.
How the term “woobie” came to be applied to the poncho liner remains a mystery. There are claims that it started as the phrase, “Because you would be cold without it,” and “would be,” evolved into woobie, or that it was called a “willbie,” from the phrase, “It will be what keeps you from freezing.”
It has also been speculated that the term may have come from the 1983 movie Mr. Mom, in which Michael Keaton’s character, Jack Butler, referred to his son Kenny’s security blanket as a “woobie.”
Why Do Troops Love The Woobie?
Today, deployed service members and veterans alike hold the woobie in high regard. Troops deployed in the field can use them as blankets, tent dividers, and field expedient shelters or sleeping bags.
Woobies can also trap a person’s body heat, even when soaking wet. Their light weight and small size make them highly appreciated by troops who must carry 100-pound rucksacks and Modular Sleep Systems. Veterans have reported using their service-issued woobies in a variety of ways: as baby blankets, hammock blankets, smoking jackets, dog beds, hoodies, coats, and robes.
Even civilians have access to woobies. Because they are sold online, they now come in a variety of fabrics, prints, and colors, as well as prices and quality. Woobies are also advertised to civilians: To hunters and campers for use during cold and wet weather, as picnic and stadium blankets for outdoor events, and for use as comforters and couch blankets at home.
From their humble beginnings in the jungles of Vietnam, to their status as “the greatest military invention ever fielded,” it’s probably safe to say that these “simple poncho liners” will continue to be enjoyed by troops, veterans, and civilians for the foreseeable future.
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