Oct 18, 2011

Oh. Hell. NO. 

Subject: Sleeves down

To All,

The Marine Corps will roll sleeves down and remain sleeves down year round...at the start of work on Monday 24 Oct. There will be official SEPCOR [ALMAR/MARADMIN] released soon directing the uniform change. Please ensure
widest dissemination.


To those who don't get it, those are the initials of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, the top enlisted Marine in - well - the universe. And what he just told everyone is that he and the Commandant apparently took the advice of the last uniform review board and decided that we should be just like the Army and keep our sleeves rolled down all year long.

Unless you're a Marine, you probably don't have a clue what I'm on about, but let me say this: this is bull$hit. Once upon a time, rolling the sleeves of the camouflage uniform up in the summer and down in the winter was something that was done by all 4 service branches. And for Marines, though left to individual commanders' discretion until as recently as 2007, it became an expected event that in the summer the sleeves would go up, and in the winter they would go down. Many Marines would look forward to summer with relish, as they were zen masters of the sleeve-roll and could make the things look like they were chiseled out of a slab of white marble. Others could never quite get it right, and came away with "Gunny-rolls" that looked almost like bell-bottoms for your arms, they were so formless. But they were a tradition and a part of the brotherhood of being a Marine.

With changes to the cut and style of uniforms in the last 8 years, sleeve rolling has been tossed out by the Army and I've seen it only sparingly in the Navy and Air Force... although, truth be told, I'm not sure just what those guys are doing - especially the Squids. On any given day at my last base (which, granted, was a Joint command) I could see Sailors in virtually ANY uniform in their sea bag. It seemed as if they were not observing any discernable seasonal standard, because they would be in basically whatever uniform they wanted to be.

Now, however, the top USMC heavies are telling us that we're just going to unceremoniously dump that tradition. And we're probably going to do it because a couple guys who have spent the last 15-20 years getting dinged for not knowing how to properly roll up their sleeves have finally become senior enough that they got seats on the annual uniform board and thought "screw you all." What I can't believe is that the Commandant bought off on this. This is what you get when you put an aviator in charge... (that's a reasonably amusing statement, for those that might know me, but it also has a bit of truth).

But what difference does this make? After all, the SgtMaj already told us that when it came to DADT ending we needed to "get over it." So I suppose that this is just one more of those things we'll have to "get over," eh? Hey, what about when Big Army finally completes its 100 year quest to simply gobble up the Marine Corps and just incorporate it like it was any ol' unit in the Army? Should we be prepped to just "get over" that too? What else should I "get over"? Hey, when all the military retirements get yanked because THAT is what will save Social Security and all the other bull$hit entitlement programs, we should just "get over" that too, right?

The Marine Corps - much more than other services - appreciates its history. Marines are steeped in tales of past deeds from the day they get to boot camp. Dan Daly and John Basilone are still just as real and important to Marines today as Brian Chontosh and Dakota Meyer. Our traditions define us. From the way we talk to the way we dress, Marines do things in a very specific way that sets us apart from not just civilians, but from the other services as well. And while even the Marine Corps historians can't settle on exactly when rolling the sleeves started as a seasonal way to beat the heat, it has since become something much more than that. It's a distinctive look. There are no other service members - hell, no other military in THE WORLD - that are as instantly recognizable as "sleeves up" Marines. It's a look that is set apart. It stands alone. And now, we're going to let go of another piece of tradition... for nothing.

In Korea, the Chinese told their troops to avoid "the Yellowlegs" due to the distinctive Gaiters that Marines wore over their boots that the Army did not. In Somalia, the locals quickly learned not to mess with "the Black Boots" because Marines hadn't gotten issued the desert-tan boots that the Army had. During the early days of Iraq, word got out fast within the Fedayeen to avoid engaging convoys if guys were wearing strange-looking uniforms (the desert digital MARPAT, and the only digital US uniform at the time), because Marines would dismount and kill you, while soldiers would not. And in Haiti, because we rolled up our sleeves differently than the Army - with the lighter, inside part showing - nobody dared screw with "The White Sleeves."

All of those other things changed because the uniform changed. It got better. It became more effective. For the readers out there (both of you) who recall my last dissertation on the subject of uniform changes, though I was initially opposed, I changed my mind. The new cammies made sense. They were improvements. And today, if we were going to change to another uniform that made it impossible to roll up our sleeves, then that would suck, but we could "get over it." But we haven't. We're apparently going to kill a tradition... just because.

You may say I'm too attached. I'm too old and crotchety. Adapt or die. And maybe you're right. This is nothing new. Marines have lamented "the NEW Corps" since 1776, and most times it was about something that was nitnoid and petty and maybe didn't really matter much. In the grand scheme of things, so's this. But I'm working with Sergeants with less than 6 years in who are already saying "This is not the Marine Corps I joined. We're becoming too much like the Army." And you know what? I agree with them. Every day I feel like another thing that I thought I knew about being a Marine - and being an American - is getting changed. Each little thing, taken on it's own, doesn't mean much. Each one can be weathered, as it's own individual event. But it's every day... and it weakens structural integrity - ever so slightly - over, and over, and over again. The structural integrity of me... the Corps... the country.

Maybe I'm just too damn mopey. Maybe the idea was just to incentivize people to get out of the Corps so that we could slim down to 186,000 by next year. And if so, well done. It's working. But like I said before, unless you're a Marine, you probably don't have a clue what I'm on about...

Gen. Gray finds your lack of sleeve rolls disturbing...

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