View Full Version : DIs’ campaign cover symbolizes authority

10-11-05, 07:21 PM
October 17, 2005
The Lore of the Corps
DIs’ campaign cover symbolizes authority
By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times

On the evening of April 8, 1956, Staff Sgt. Matthew McKeon, a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., led the 74 recruits of Training Platoon 71 into Ribbon Creek, a tidal marsh behind what are now the depot’s rifle ranges.

Unfortunately, the career Marine’s attempt to instill discipline in his recruits backfired as six young men drowned in the murky water.

What followed was a court-martial for McKeon and changes in training and operating standards. Another byproduct of the tragedy was the authorization for drill instructors to wear the campaign hat, or “Smokey Bear,” to serve as a symbol of authority for their recruits and prestige among their peers.

The Marine Corps’ adoption of the campaign cover for its drill instructors came nearly a century after the hat first gained acceptance with the U.S. military.

Campaign covers were initially black. In 1888, the Army introduced a brown variant; over time, the brim was widened and the center peak shortened.

The first Marines known to have worn the campaign cover were deployed to Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War of 1898. With war in these tropical regions looming, the Corps had requested a supply of hats from the Army and adopted the campaign hat as its own.

The field-expedient method of Marines “peaking” their hats, or making them more pointed at the top center to deflect rainwater, led to the adoption of the “Montana Peak” design in 1912. This four-dent crown cover is the version currently worn by Marines.

Leathernecks wore their campaign hats proudly throughout World War I. When World War II rolled around, the classification of felt as a critical war item, cost of manufacturing and need for a more practical field hat snatched the campaign cover from most Marines’ heads.

Shortly after the McKeon incident, Brig. Gen. Wallace M. Greene appropriated the necessary funds and contracted with J.B. Stetson Co. to purchase more than 600 campaign hats, which were distributed to drill instructors on July 21, 1956. Greene was commanding general of Recruit Training Command at the depot.

Five years later, the authorization to wear the campaign cover was extended to rifle and pistol team members and personnel permanently assigned to Marine ranges. Officers in such units wear the same cover as their enlisted comrades, but with a cord on the front brim — scarlet and gold for warrant and commissioned officers, and gold for general officers.

Both the Army and Air Force followed the Corps’ example by adopting the campaign hat for wear by their respective entry-level enlisted trainers. Army drill sergeants began wearing the hat in 1964, while some years later the Air Force adopted its distinctive blue campaign hat. The hat is also a favorite of law enforcement agencies across the United States.

In October 1996, after years of debate, female Marine drill instructors traded in the red cords worn to distinguish them as drill instructors for the campaign cover worn by their male counterparts.

The writer is a gunnery sergeant stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He can be reached at kambtp@aol.com.


06-14-09, 12:08 PM
When US Marines were seagoing on capital ships of the line (as they are no more), wearing of "The Hat" by the CO and XO of the Detachment was authorized. So as XO of the Detachment, USS Newport News (CA-148)--with then-Captain Archie Van Winkle, USMC, MOH commanding--it was worn with pride even as we supported the Naval Mission in Haiti against a possible Dominican invasion. However, my OBS classmate Carl Mundy didn't think Marines should be seagoing anymore. But, to be fair, there was much about the Marine Corps of MY era he did not like. So it goes...
Sorry Ol' Gimlet Eye and Chesty. Semper Fi!