View Full Version : End the Army’s ‘Uniform Chaos’

12-12-03, 06:21 AM

End the Army’s ‘Uniform Chaos’

By Ray Starmann

In June of 1989, while touring then-communist East Berlin, I was stopped by a middle-aged British man and his wife. “Excuse me,” he began in haltingly slow English, “where is Checkpoint Charlie?” I wondered why he was speaking to me so slowly?

“Actually, it’s just several blocks to the left,” I said. He looked at me strangely. “Oh, Christ, you’re an American soldier, I thought you were one of those East German bastards. Why aren’t you wearing khakis?” Before I could answer, the couple strolled away.

I looked across the street and spotted a member of the hated and feared East German Peoples’ Police questioning someone. Interestingly enough, he was wearing almost the exact uniform I was: a light green Class B polyester shirt, olive drab polyester pants, black low quarters, and a dark green saucer cap.

For the last 30 years, the U.S. Army has been in a state of what I call “uniform chaos.” A “wash and wear” mentality has permeated the Army. This has resulted in uniforms that seek to mimic corporate America and replicate the styles of the 1970s.

The Army is in desperate need of uniforms which promote the history and esprit de corps of the world’s finest soldiers. General George “Blood and Guts’ Patton knew the importance of good-looking uniforms. In 1940, he designed a uniform for tankers that consisted of green pants, a double-breasted green jacket with gold buttons and a gold helmet. The Army rejected it, but the original model is on permanent display at Fort Knox.

After 1975, a post-Vietnam practicality contributed to the changes and new designs of Army uniforms. American society was at best, indifferent to the military, and at worst, hostile. It was hoped that the new uniforms would create a quasi-civilian image for soldiers. Old uniforms like the khakis, which represented the Vietnam era, would eventually be phased out. The result; for almost three decades the U.S. Army has worn some of the worst-looking and poorly-designed uniforms of any Army in the last 100 years. Some of the more hideous items in the uniform inventory are:

1. The infamous Class A and B puke-green polyester shirt. Hated by soldiers from Hawaii to Hohenfels, the puke green shirt is an archaic relic of the mid-1970s. It must go.

2. The olive-drab Class A uniform. Designed to resemble a civilian leisure suit, this monstrosity went out of style with the AMC Gremlin and disco.

3. Pre-shined black low quarters. These shoes were designed for civilians to wear at the opera, not for soldiers. If you’re too lazy to spit shine your shoes, then you better out-process now.

4. The black commando sweater. Designed and implemented by Euro-trash armies, this NATO copy is as un-American as Brie Cheese and Hermann Goering.

5. The unisex black cardigan sweater. The cardigan sweater conjures up images of old men with pipes and schoolgirls. It does not portray a martial spirit and must be one of the first items in the Pentagon dumpster.

6. The maternity battle dress uniform. The title itself violates every principle of common sense, good reason and military doctrine. If a pregnant woman can’t deploy to a combat zone, why is she wearing a “maternity battle dress” uniform at all?

7. The tropical whites. Expensive to purchase, seldom worn, and only by personnel stationed in remote places like the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar, the whites really have no place in the Army uniform inventory. Leave the whites to the Navy.

8. The black umbrella. An optional clothing item for female soldiers, the use of an umbrella is as much of a faux pas as walking around with hands in your pockets. Soldiers do not use umbrellas, ever, on any occasion. Get wet and get used to it.

9. The universal black beret. One of the worst decisions the Army has made since 1775, the black beret must be returned to the Rangers and taken off the heads of everyone who is not in a Ranger battalion.

When the black beret was instituted as the primary headgear for the Army, it was hoped that it would enhance morale and pride among all troopers in the lean, green machine. The geniuses in the Pentagon had the right plan, but executed it incorrectly. Here are the changes they should have made:

1. The khakis must be resurrected as the Class A and B uniforms. The summer Class A uniform would include a khaki jacket and a khaki overseas or saucer cap. The winter Class A uniform would consist of khakis with an olive drab jacket, and olive drab overseas and saucer caps. The winter uniform would resemble the old “Pinks and Greens” from World War II. The winter Class B uniform would consist of khakis with an olive drab “Ike Jacket” or for aviators, an A-2 brown leather jacket.

2. The epaulets on the class A and B khaki shirt would have a color stripe where the shoulder seam meets the arm. Each color would represent the branch the soldier serves in.

3. The brown low-quarter dress shoe must be returned. The black low quarter, which resembles an orthopedic shoe, should remain where it belongs, on a shelf in a podiatrist’s office.

4. The camouflage utility cap should once again be the headgear worn with BDUs. A winter version of the utility cap should be created, which has a heavier fabric, similar to the German Army’s M-43 field cap.

On the contrary to the above, the Army’s Dress Blue and Mess Dress uniforms are top-notch. Somehow, these two uniforms survived the disastrous changes of the 1970s and remain to this day the sharpest-looking uniforms in the Army. They represent the glory of the 19th century Army and enhance pride in the organization.

The battle dress uniform, or BDU, is also a superb, but only when worn in the field. I have always wondered why the Army decided to wear the BDUs while in garrison. In the field, the BDU serves the soldier’s needs. In garrison, it is uncomfortable and not practical. Class B’s should be worn in garrison, as they have been in the past.

Finally, the Army needs to change the material of its Class A and B uniforms. Polyester, while popular in 1975, is not a favorite fabric in 2003. The class A and B khakis should be made of light and heavy-weight cotton. A special type of cotton that is treated with an enzyme is available today. This enzyme enables the cotton to be virtually wrinkle-free.

If Army leaders are in doubt about the need for good-looking uniforms and their effects on soldiers’ morale and fighting spirit, they should drop by a unit dining-in or dining-out. Look at the soldiers there, dressed in their blues. See the pride in their faces. They know they look sharp. They also wish that all of their uniforms looked that good. There is no reason why they shouldn’t.

If you want to change the Army’s uniforms and wish to submit a suggestion, please send it on a DA Form 2028 to the following address:

300 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0300

Ray Starmann is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at saber2bravo@earthlink.net.




12-12-03, 07:05 AM
I don't see what the big deal is.

If ALL of the uniform suggestions were adopted, it would still be the army.

To paraphrase a memorable quote; "A sewer, by any other name, would still stink."

12-12-03, 07:55 AM
Hey Top, don't sugar coat it. Tell it like it is. Semper Fi