Captain Dye's Blog
These are all the Blogs posted in July, 2010.
Friday, 23
Camouflage Chic - Fashionista's Revenge
From time to time here at Warriors Inc. we get a little job that involves insights far beyond the scope of what we're hired to do as Military Advisors. Consider what happened recently when I called Warriors XO Lt. Mike Stokey into town to square away some models who would be wearing American military combat uniforms in a still photo-session designed to produce advertising images for a major wireless communications client. Mike simply had to insure the models wore their uniforms correctly and we've got a lot of personal and professional experience in that arena from our own service plus all the multi-service motion picture and TV projects we've been called on to monitor and mentor.
Department of Defense regulations are clear and direct regarding the use of official uniforms and insignia in commercial advertising. You can't do it because it would imply official endorsement of the product being advertised. So there were no official emblems, rank insignia or unit designations involved. It was just a bunch of models wearing sanitized, plain-vanilla versions of real military combat uniforms from each of the services. Even the embroidered stuff that couldn't be removed had to be photo-shopped out of the final product. There was some posture and pose advice given and heeded. Male haircuts and female hair-styles were checked for adherence to regulations. And there was a little time expended to insure berets didn't look like inverted pizza plates, trousers were properly bloused and boot laces hidden from view but it was a yawner for the most part.
Minus the distraction of patches, pins, bells and whistles, we got a good look at all of the current military working/combat uniforms and had what passes for an epiphany around here. Someone somewhere in the hierarchy that determines what our sailors and Air Force folks wear when they're not on parade or standing a dress uniform inspection needs to get back on their meds or put that crack pipe away for a while. What in the world - beyond a desire to look more like the boys up on the pointy-end of the bayonet - prompted the Navy and the Air Force to approve and issue the new Navy Working Uniform (NWU) and the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU)?
I get the drift with the ever image conscious Marine Corps that fields two versions of their digital camouflage combat uniform. There's the desert version now familiar in images from Iraq and Afghanistan and there's a green digital style that works passably for practically everywhere else Leathernecks might find themselves in the field. And with the exception of berets - one of the most impractical and difficult to wear hats ever foisted off on soldiers - the U.S. Army has done an admirable job with their relatively new Army Combat Uniform, especially in the design of accessible pockets and handy Velcro patches that keep Joes and Janes from having to constantly sew on new unit ID patches. And even the rainbow palette beret question has been dealt with by issuing a ranger-style hat for times when the beret is just dumb and a helmet isn't necessary.
From a practical standpoint - and that should be the main yardstick in judging the utility of a combat uniform - the Army and Marine Corps have for the most part answered the mail from the troops. I mean these guys are likely to need some sort of image or shape-disrupting camouflage in the field where they operate for the most part. So no problems beyond minor quibbles with the Army and Marine Corps combat dress. That said, a quick gander at the NWU and the ABU followed by a rational consideration of where these things might be worn by sailors and airmen makes me think the uniform boards of the Navy and Air Force have been infiltrated by raging fashionistas who have never seen a flight line much less been aboard a ship.
Maybe I could be coerced or persuaded to see some value in the Airman Battle Uniform given PJs and Combat Controllers who regularly spend time with Army units in the field. But that's a relatively small percentage of the force and it seems to me that if I was an operator on the ground conducting deep rescue missions or calling in air support for an Army unit, I'd want to look just like the soldiers I'm supporting rather than advertising myself as special or different thus becoming a prime sniper target. But that's just me reflecting on actual combat experience. Granted the ABU has a nice martial look featuring a version of the Vietnam-era tiger stripes in sort of greenish-grayish colors that give it an Air Force flair, but you're going to have to go some to convince me it's practical for hangars, flight lines, administrative offices or supply warehouses where the majority of airmen spend their time. And then you've got a specially designed working boot that doesn't have steel toes for guys working around machinery - and most people in the Air Force do some version of that - with a dye job to match the uniform. Why...when perfectly good and more practical boots are already in the Air Force inventory? Beats me.
What's really got me scratching my head and various other body parts is the new Navy Working Uniform. Apparently this gem is now rolling off exchange shelves in such a flurry of rabid consumerism that the manufacturers can't keep up with demand. Apparently the tried and true, eminently practical dungarees so familiar to generations of Americans didn't pass Navy muster and the equally practical if slightly less traditional working coveralls were deemed too much like something worn by garage mechanics. If that's the case, fair enough, and sailors should certainly have some input to what they wear to the work that consumes most of their waking hours in the Navy. But you're going to have to show me the sketches, letters and emails before I believe that the majority of our Navy men and women voted for the new camouflage uniform.
And I'm using the term camouflage advisedly here. Why a sailor serving aboard a ship of any sort or size - including submarines - would need a blue, black and white mottled uniform is beyond me. In fact, if I was ducking and weaving across a pitching deck under fire from another surface vessel, aircraft or pirate skiff, the last thing I'd want is a uniform that made me stick out like a dog-target against a haze-grey background. And don't give me the ground combat song and dance. You won't catch SEALs or Navy Spec War support folks wearing this eye-popper on clandestine operations. And Navy Corpsmen who go to the field in support of Marine combat units are smart enough to wear Marine uniforms so they blend in with the grunts.
So what's behind all this uniform flash and dash in the Navy and the Air Force? Only the aforementioned fashionistas know for sure but I believe I know enough about the military mind-set to hazard a guess. For nearly the past decade or so, public attention and the attendant glamour has gone to the soldiers and Marines taking the fight to a resolute enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sailors and airmen have been getting short-shrift and that's caused some understandable - but totally unfounded - resentment and concern in the Departments of the Navy and Air Force. Young men and women of military age and bent want in on the action for the most part and the action for the most part is in the Army or the Marine Corps so recruiting suffers. Add to that folks already in those two under-appreciated services who feel they aren't being recognized in the age of special operations oriented, high-speed, low-drag combat operations and you get a desire to somehow draw attention to yourself and by extension to your contributions to national defense.
You also get a mentality that says somehow changing uniforms to something that more closely resembles what ground combat warriors wear will do the trick. It won't but that's neither here nor there among the folks who are in the business of trying to meet recruiting goals and inject motivation into the ranks. Nice try but no cigar...and motivation doesn't come from uniforms no matter how slick or eye-catching they may be. Our sailors and airmen would do an outstanding job in pink skivvies if that's what it took to sail America's ships or keep her aircraft flying.
Motivation comes from good leadership and that includes a constant effort to remind our military people of their proud military heritage, to include the uniforms their predecessors wore so proudly. If it was up to me, I'd send the fashionistas to any good NCO Leadership School where they'd get a heavy dose of service history and tradition. Change is often related to progress and it's nothing to fear but change for superficial reasons is often counter-productive.
It's not about the trappings. It's about the heart that beats beneath those combat uniforms. That's called warrior spirit. You can't camouflage it nor should you try.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 7:34 PM / Category:General News
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