Thursday, May 18, 2006

Copy this, if you dare!

An old proverb says that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." This Marine, however, wishes the other US armed services would stop "flattering" my beloved Corps and do their own thing. Didn't used to be that the Marine Corps was the one being copied by the other services. In fact, for most of the Corps' illustrious history, it copied, and received hand-me-down uniforms and equipment from, the US Army. It is a little known fact that our cherished red-striped blue trousers are not a Marine original creation. Our "tradition" is that the red-stripe is worn by officers and NCOs to commemorate the 100% casualty rate in those ranks at the Battle of Chapaltepec during the War with Mexico. We don't mention the fact that we have the blue trousers with a red stripe because some time in the last half of the 19th Century the quartermaster of the impoverished Marine Corps clothed Marines in US Army artilleryman's trousers (blue with a red stripe) that he "procured" from a ill-secured Army warehouse (a lot of the "hand-me-down" equipment we have gotten from the Army over the years was, shall we say, of the "five-finger discount" variety).

On the subject of Marine procurement at the Army's expense, I am reminded of something my first battalion commander once told a group of his second lieutenants. We were gathered at some social function and, like most lieutenants, didn't know better than to talk shop. At the time, the Marine Corps was going through a paroxysm of uniform flux, and one of the issues was whether to wear our bright shiny officer rank insignia on our combat uniforms or adopt the Army's practice of wearing subdued olive drab rank insignia. LtCol Summerlin overheard our discussion and put it to an end with the following observation: "Lieutenants," he intoned in his soft North Carolina drawl, "I was a rifle company commander in Vietnam for 13 months, and the only time I took the shiny rank insignia off my uniform was when I went to the rear to steal from the Army."

During the late '70s the Marine Corps developed and adopted the woodland camouflage pattern for our combat fatigues (we call them "utilities" -- Marines don't recognize fatigue). After a couple of years, in the first ever such occurrence that I can verify, the Army copied the Marine Corps and adopted the woodland camouflage pattern for their fatigues. Soon, the Air Force was wearing woodland camouflage. The Air Force! Why in the world would an F-16 mechanic need to be camouflaged?!?

For the past 20 years or more, the woodland camouflage patterned up-dated jungle fatigues has been the identifying uniform for American servicemen. We Marines wanted to be sure not to be confused with the Army, or the other para-military branches, so we used some subtle ways to keep ourselves separated. At first, we didn't put any organizational patches or other do-dads on our combat uniforms, other than rank insignia. Then the air wing Marines started wearing their flight wings. Then the jump and scuba club (recon) Marines started wearing their jump and scuba badges. Then, after the 1991 desert drive-by reality show (Desert Storm), we adopted the Army practice of name and service tapes over our pockets. The only way to distinguish a Marine in woodland camouflage was by the way we rolled our sleeves up in a non-tactical inside-out fashion, as opposed to the Army and their "NBC" roll.

But, in full combat uniform it was very hard to distinguish US Marines from US soldiers, and we desperately wanted to make sure that our enemies knew they were up against US Marines--for reasons that are patently obvious and need not be discussed in this forum! So, a few years ago, the Marine Corps began redesigning our field utility uniform. We upgraded the old jungle fatigue standard, making pockets and such more accessible, and, in a stroke designed to make us stand out separate from all of the other US forces, we developed a digital camouflage pattern complete with tiny Marine Corps emblems in the pattern. We stood out again, for the first time in nearly 30 years. Our unique look was short-lived. The Army quickly copied our uniform design and digital camouflage pattern.

And, if that isn't bad enough, the US Air Force is dangerously close to copying the Marine Corps' most cherished and easily distinguishable dress uniform--the high-collared Dress Blues. They are calling it the "Billy Mitchell" or some such nonsense. At first glance, you would swear you were looking at a Marine in bad need of a haircut!

I have an idea for a new stand-out Marine "uniform", and the current crop of youngsters would love it. I say we dispense with all of the costly articles of clothing and go with total body tattoo camouflage.
Post a Comment