‘If it ain’t broke’: Why are Army uniforms so damn bad — and always getting worse?

‘If it ain’t broke’: Why are Army uniforms so damn bad — and always getting worse?

By Col. Jon C. Schreyach, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense military fashion columnist

Last summer I saw a Washington Post article about the House’s approval of a measure to have all the military services use the same camouflage pattern on their battle dress.

I applaud that decision, and it got me thinking about uniforms and uniform changes in general and, in particular, those of my service, the Army, which seems to be 1) always changing its uniforms and 2) getting a uniform that is worse than its predecessor. In this regard, I have to admit a certain jealousy of my colleagues in the Marine Corps. I’m no expert, but I believe that the "jarheads" have, basically, had the same uniforms since WWII.

Contrast the changes (or non-changes) in uniforms that the Marines have made over time with what has gone on in the Army. The leadership of the senior service, it seems, is always looking to change its uniforms to something "better" (witness the infamous black beret debacle). And in so doing, they disregard the old adage that "perfect is the enemy of good." What follows is based on my imperfect memory of a few of these really dumb changes.

  • In WWII, for service dress, the Army had "Pinks and Greens" with a Sam Browne belt. They also had khakis (shirt and trousers). Both were great looking and serviceable, but then, toward the end of the war, the "Ike" jacket was introduced. I’m not sure why this was done, but soldiers of that era have told me that the major characteristic of that garment was that it assured that your shirt was always sticking out of the gap between the waistband of the jacket and the top of the trousers and looked really sloppy.
  • In the late ‘50s, when I had my first contact with the Army, it still had khakis and was just introducing a new Class A uniform — the Army Green (AG-44). (What was wrong with Pinks and Greens?) At that time, we also had, for summer wear, a khaki tropical worsted uniform which, of course, since it was so good looking, was being phased out just as I was commissioned. The AG-44, however, stayed around for quite a while, as the Class A duty uniform until the recent decision to replace it as the uniform for everyday garrison wear with the "Army Blue" uniform which, in my day, was the to be worn at formal and semi-formal (depending upon the tie worn) social events. When used for everyday wear with its dark blue jacket, shoulder boards (reminiscent of the Civil War), and contrasting, light blue trousers with gold stripe, it looks ridiculous. Almost as silly as those Gilbert and Sullivan outfits that were introduced for the Army Band’s Herald Trumpeters during, I believe, the Nixon administration.
  • Of course, the AG-44 was not immune to some tweaking even before they did away with it entirely. Army Green had originally been worn with a tan shirt, but the uniform trolls decided it would be better with a light green shirt and that the new shirt would have epaulets so that badges of rank could be worn on the shoulders and one would still be in uniform when the blouse was removed. (Not removing the blouse was, apparently, never considered as an option.) At that time, khakis were still around, and they (khakis) came in both long and short sleeved versions. But somebody bucking for an Army Commendation Medal decided that only the short sleeved version was needed, so soldiers were directed to have the sleeves cut off of their long sleeved shirts. This was fine until the next autumn when everyone in short sleeves got cold and there was, then, a mad scramble to develop and issue a windbreaker to protect the soldiers who would have been just fine in long sleeves. Talk about unintended consequences!

The point here is, as my old sergeant major used to say, "If it ain’t broke — don’t fix it."

Jon C. Schreyach, COL(R); FA; OS tours: ROK, RVN (2), FRG; BnCO-155MM Bn-1st AD; Author: FMs6-20&6-1; Concepts/Rqmts-Corps Deep Opns; Copperhead, MLRS, ATACMS; Ret.’90; LMMFC-Mktg; Ret. ’08. He blogs at http://www.opinionsunlimited.us/blog.html