The Green Uniform-Don't Kill It

By Muhlenfeld, William F. | Army, November 2006 | Go to article overview

The Green Uniform-Don't Kill It


Muhlenfeld, William F., Army


In recent months the Army has announced that it has decided to discard the Army green uniform and adopt in its place the Army blue uniform. The blues, according to the press release, would be worn as the standard Class A uniform and, with the addition of a bow tie, the formal dress uniform as well. A statement, attributed to the Army leadership, said the Army has too many uniforms and the time had come to simplify clothing requirements. This is a terrible idea for reasons that I will explain-but first, a bit of history.

During my Army career there was -and perhaps still is-an organization run by the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Lee, Va., whose mission was to research and evaluate possible improvements to Army uniforms and, after field testing, make recommendations to the Chief of Staff. I suppose, on balance, they have done a good job, but they have had some losers.

When I entered the Army, nearly a half century ago, I was issued a poncho for use in the field during inclement weather. The poncho was properly called a shelter half because it had snaps on the side and could be attached to another soldier's poncho and fashioned into a pup tent. I was never issued the stakes, poles and rope that would be needed to set up a pup tent, and in all of my service never once saw one in use. I often wondered what would happen when the pouring rain rolled down the sides and into the holes that were intended for the soldier's head.

In garrison our protection from rain was the taupe raincoat. This garment absorbed water rather than repelled it, so it could not be worn for a protracted period.

In the 1950s, '60s and early '70s our Class B summer uniform was one of four khaki uniforms. The first was tropical worsted, or TWs, and it looked good. But it was a wool fiber and hot. We also had cotton khakis. These could be starched stiff as a board but, once worn, collapsed into a mass of wrinkles. For a time we had Bermuda shorts. These were worn with knee-high socks and were comfortable. However, you had to have the legs for the socks. Otherwise they kept falling down. The last of these uniforms was a cotton polyester blend that was lightweight and more or less wrinkle free. I and my contemporaries generally thought this uniform was a winner, but it was discontinued when the Army approved a lighter weight fabric for the greens and designated that uniform for yearround wear.

Sometime during the 1960s the Army approved a low-rise black boot. How that happened remains a mystery to this day. It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to blouse this boot, and most soldiers either began wearing blousing garters or else they purchased at their own expense one of the high-rise Corcoran boots favored by airborne soldiers.

For a time in the 1970s we had an excellent gray windbreaker that could be worn with the Class B greens. This entered oblivion when the Army turned black and we all went to London Fog. Also during this period, briefly, the Army approved a green cardigan sweater. I believe this was during the Carter years, when the President ordered that the heat be turned down in all federal buildings to save energy. The cardigans were comfortable enough, but they made us look like clerks and bookkeepers instead of soldiers.

Then there is the controversial black beret, only a partial mistake and one made not by the folks at Fort Lee but by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who simply wanted a sharp headgear that would inject some élan to the uniform and elevate esprit-de-corps. The mistake was in eliminating the service cap and continuing the Army's hardheaded refusal to authorize umbrellas. The beret offers no protection from sun or rain. You could at least wear a rain cover with the service cap and stay reasonably dry, but with the beret you just have to stand there and drip.

Now comes the decision to discontinue the greens and adopt the dress blues as the standard Class A and dress uniforms. …

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