Can we talk about the new U.S. military uniforms being rolled out in 2019? If you’re in the Army, you’re probably smiling with a smug sense of satisfaction. “Well at least we don’t have to go through with that again,” you might be saying. “I mean, we just got the Army Service Uniform! We’re good for another fifty years!”
I regret to inform you that you should hold off on bragging, because: BOHICA.
Remember walking through grandma’s house as a child and seeing those photos on the wall of your grandfather in his World War II-era service dress uniform, two or three ribbons on it, tops (despite liberating Paris or parachuting into Holland). And maybe adjacent to that, the framed photo of your dad, just after Vietnam or Desert Storm, in his Class A’s? You look at those photos, two generations of American warriors, and each is distinct, dignified—each feels like some specific part of history. Grampa’s uniform is as timeless and unmistakable as the one worn by General Washington. It belongs to his war, to his era. So too does your father’s. The Army greens are like the “modern age” uniform for an institution that was around a hundred years before electricity.
There might also be a picture of you on the wall in your Class A uniform, your eight thousand ribbons, your black beret that for about six months in 2001 made the ladies think you were a Ranger. And one photo over, there is another picture of you… in a midnight blue Army Service Uniform. (Why are you in two dress uniforms?) And coming in late 2019, there will be yet another photograph for you to hang on the wall—this time in your “pinks and greens.” Wait, what?
When your grandchildren walk down grandma’s hallway, they’re going to think one of two things: that all of grandpa’s photos were taken in a costume shop, the way you can dress like an outlaw and pose for a photographs with an Old West saloon backdrop; or that you were a time traveler and fought in wars across several generations. What else could explained all these uniforms?
A PERFECT UNIFORM FOR THE MODERN ARMY
This year, every branch of the military will see changes to its uniforms. Some are big. Some are small. Some are smart. But most are just the result of embarrassingly bad decisions that everyone without four stars on their shoulders knew would never last. (If you are a veteran looking to start a business, forget weapons or aerospace engineering—hire a few tailors and start designing uniforms. The military really will buy anything, apparently, and in very large numbers.)
Let’s start with the Army.
Look, the classic green Class A uniform was never going to win any beauty contests, but it was at least service distinctive. Army = green. Then came the dark Army Service Uniform, which looked from the start like the unholy union of an Air Force and Marine Corps uniform. (The service claimed at the time that it traced its lineage to the continental Army, but fact check: NOPE.) The new uniform never quite looked right, never quite fit properly (even when it did!), as though designers were searching for ways to hide the expanding waistlines of soldiers, but in the process, made even the fittest of soldiers appear frowsy and unkempt.
Be that as it may, the branch made the decision to go with it, and it should have had the courage of its convictions. The Army is 243 years old. It will be around for a long longer. It can win any argument simply by outliving its critics. Why not do the same thing here? Since its introduction, the Army Service Uniform has been worn honorably. Medals of Honor have adorned it. It is finally part of the public consciousness. So what has the Army decided to do? Change it entirely! Well of course! Moving now to pinks and greens is the Armyest thing the modern Army has ever done. It is like a parody of a profligate, feckless officer corps that can’t figure out what to do in the field or in garrison, so, well, let’s dress up like Omar Bradley and maybe it’ll come to us.
The first time an officer raised his or her hand in a staff meeting and said, “Hey maybe we should replace the service uniform again!” he or she should have been given an Article 15 for sheer stupidity. When news came out of yet another dress uniform, every soldier in the service should have filed a Fraud, Waste, and Abuse complaint.
But why am I surprised? This is the same Army who has been through three camouflage patterns so far in the same war. Grass, rocks, trees and sand have been the same for about 70 million years. It’s like the people who choose these patterns go outside, look at the forest, and say, “Well that looks nothing like the ACU pattern. What’s going on with these trees?”
WILD BLUE YONDER
Oh don’t worry, I’m not only going to pick on the Army. Remember when the Navy issued its blue, white, and black digital camouflage pattern to sailors? Because what better uniform to be wearing when you fall overboard than the exact color of rushing water. Thankfully, by the end of 2019, the “blueberry” uniforms will be a thing of the past. The Navy has replaced its working uniform with a new color scheme that blends perfectly into those forest backgrounds used in grade school Olan Mills photographs. It is, at least, a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, hey, remember the Air Force Battle Uniform fiasco? The year we invaded Iraq, the Air Force decided that, yes, blue tiger-stripes will match the desert perfectly. (It was a Totally Serious Uniform, with the Air Force logo hidden in the pattern and everything.) It was “a uniform you will be proud to wear,” said the Air Force at the time, and you could tell, based on how desperately airmen begged for special dispensation to wear ACUs in-theater. (And you have to be pretty desperate to want to wear ACUs.) The Air Force being the Air Force, generals at last relented, only to choose a uniform pattern they could apparently buy in bulk from surplus stores in Venezuela. (Not to worry: If you hated the new hues, you had the option of just, um, washing your uniform, and it would change colors.)
This year, at last, the Air Force is issuing to its airmen the OCP uniform—the same camouflage as the one used by the Army. It is a great decision. Maybe I’m crazy, but when the Defense Department finds a “best” camouflage pattern, shouldn’t every branch adopt it? I mean, is the point of camouflage to show off which branch has the best fashion designers, or is to, um, CAMOUFLAGE YOU FROM THE ENEMY.
Of course, now that the Air Force is wearing “Army camouflage,” this time next year, some ex-pilot wearing stars and a desk will raise his or her hand in a staff meeting and say, “You know… our airmen really deserve something service specific. Something they can be proud of.” And the cycle will begin anew. Maybe something in tennis-ball-yellow or hunter’s-vest-orange.
Like the Army, the Air Force is presently redesigning their dress uniforms as well, and like the Army, is taking inspiration from the past. Since the Air Force doesn’t really have a whole lot of past to work from, they’re basically just adding pockets to the “blue suit” to make it look more “military.” As far as redesigns go, that’s not the worst, I guess, but the Air Force already has a great uniform. It is elegant and distinctive. So this change is being made for the sake of change. (Good thing taxpayers don’t have to pay for uniforms! Oh, wait…) Considering how desperate the Air Force is for heritage, here’s an idea: Maybe it could just stick with their present dress blues for another twenty years, and actually collect enough heritage to lean on. (I assert that the branch hasn’t recovered psychologically from its disastrous move from the glorious Hap Arnold wings to the origami robot bat.)
As a former soldier (and before that, a former airman!), it physically pains me to type glowing words for the Marine Corps. (I once tried to join the Marines but I couldn’t pass the physical… I couldn’t fit my head in a jar.) But here goes! The Marines understand that overall, two types of people join the armed forces: 1. The patriot who wishes to guard us while we sleep, and 2. The person who sees his or her place in the world, and knows he or she could do better. (And in the Army’s case, 3. The person whose judge gave them either that option, or jail.)
The Marine Corps, too, is changing its dress uniform this year. And unlike the Army, they are not changing it because… World War 2. Unlike the Navy, they are not changing it because… blue blends poorly with grass (though in the prone position, I guess you disguise yourself as a puddle, I guess). Unlike the Air Force, they are not changing it to add a set of pockets that you are not allowed to use. The Marine Corp is standardizing its uniform to be the same for men and women. And that’s it! It’s almost like they had a reason for a change: to promote unit cohesion.
It’s hard to believe the Pentagon approved such a change. It makes too much sense!