This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, February 7th 2018. I feel that it an appropriate follow up to “Be All You Can Be”.
The US Army is in the process of making a uniform change, again. Except this time, 80 percent of active duty soldiers approve of the proposed change, and so do I.
First, some history. From the Revolutionary War to 1900, army uniforms were different shades of blue. In 1902 the army started issuing wool olive drab uniforms for work and everyday wear, but still kept a dress blue uniform. The olive drab uniform was tinkered with through World War I until around 1926 when the army settled on the uniform worn in World War II. It was basically an olive drab coat with different trousers, brown shoes and a service (bus driver) hat, or a garrison (envelope) cap. The requirement for officers to have a dress blue uniform was suspended from 1940 until 1947, the war years. That was the uniform until 1954, when Army leadership started wanting something new. The green uniform, with the same type headgear, but green, and black shoes was phased in until it was the only uniform in 1957. President Kennedy approved the Green Beret for Special Forces soldiers, during a trip to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1961. Many different units started wearing different berets in the 1970’s, which resulted in the Maroon beret being approved for airborne soldiers, and the Black beret for Rangers. In June 2001, General Eric Shinseki, the Chief of Staff of the Army, thought the black beret was cool and arbitrarily ordered the Black Beret as headgear for the entire Army, and a Tan Beret for the Rangers, in reference to the buckskins worn by Rogers Rangers in the French and Indian War. That was probably one of the most unpopular decisions an Army Chief of Staff ever made. It made Special Forces, Rangers, and Airborne mad, because their berets signified something special, which was earned. Every poll of soldiers since has said “get rid of the black beret”. Then in 2008, Army leadership again felt the urge to do something different. The thought was, we already have the dress blue uniform let’s just make it the only dress up uniform. The green uniform was finally phased out in 2015. So now it’s like you’re going to work in an office and all you have in your closet are coveralls and a tuxedo, nothing in between. No plain business suit. The result has been the wearing of the camouflage combat uniform almost everywhere. The Marines never gave up their green and brown uniform, but the Army has played around. I still have my Dad’s brown jacket he wore home from World War II. Although now moth eaten, it is just as he took it off, with Sergeant stripes, jump wings, a French fourragere over the left shoulder, and an 82nd Airborne Division patch on the left shoulder.
The light colored trousers worn with the green olive drab uniform, in WWII, were rose shade wool, and when the light was just right gave a pinkish look. That uniform was called pinks and greens, and it was one of the most popular. The current Sergeant Major of the Army, Dan Dailey, has had his ear closer to the troops than some before him.
The Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) position was created in 1966, because the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that enlisted personnel needed a stronger voice at Army Headquarters. He is the principle advisor to the Chief of Staff on enlisted matters. The position has grown and evolved, over the years. Although an enlisted man, Army protocol affords the SMA the same courtesy as a four star general. The SMA’s duties are either what the Chief wants, or what he wants. Daniel Dailey, is the youngest person to hold the job. An infantry soldier all his career, he was 46 when he was appointed in January 2015, so on a normal four year tour, he has about a year remaining as SMA. Upon being appointed, he immediately started touring the Army, holding town hall type meetings with junior enlisted troops. One of the first complaints was tattoos, which resulted in him being instrumental in getting the tattoo rules relaxed and standardized. Almost all of the soldiers disapproved of the black beret, and that complaint grew into a general uniform complaint. The only Class A uniform is dress blues, which is too formal for wear to plain office work in a headquarters, or to informal settings, such as recruiting duty, so everyone wears camo all the time.
Pinks and Greens are coming back, complete with brown shoes, service hat and garrison cap. Sergeant Major Dailey has been working on this project for a couple of years. Different prototypes have been worn to official functions around Washington, DC, and he and Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, have both been fitted with prototypes. SMA Dailey wore his pinks and greens to the Army Navy Game. Changes have been made, based on responses from soldiers, long ties for both men and women and no pleats to a straight pencil skirt for women, as well as trousers, if they prefer. This is the first time junior enlisted soldiers, in the entire army, have been involved in selecting a uniform. A final decision on the exact uniform is expected this coming spring. Nothing has been mentioned about the Black Beret, maybe because Eric Shinseki is still alive. This is more than correcting something that should never have been changed. This is the Army going back to its roots.
I enlisted in the Army at the end of August 1961. I took basic training with the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The 6th Armored had been reduced to cadre strength to put recruits through basic training. There weren’t any Drill Sergeants, at that time. Infantry AIT (Advanced Individual Training) was at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Most of the cadre had just returned from Europe or Korea. Then Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and finally to the 82nd Airborne Division. I arrived at my first company March 1st, 1962. From the time I enlisted I heard sergeants refer to the “Brown Boot Army”. “That wouldn’t happen in the brown boot army.” “I was in the brown boot army, things were different then.” Those were World War II veterans, who had been in combat in the war. They wore unit combat patches on their right sleeve, and Combat Infantryman Badges over their wings which were adorned with stars signifying combat jumps. When they “deployed” in World War II, it was for the duration of the war. The action they saw was measured in years not months. I was in awe of their knowledge and experience, and they were willing to pass on that knowledge. I had a Platoon Sergeant, who I swear could give a class on any subject at the drop of a hat. That is “the greatest generation”.
I have previously written that I consider George C Marshall to be the father of the modern Army. The brown shoe army was his creation, and it is the basis of the modern army. That army passed on its knowledge, its clichés, its pride, and its language. I am amused at the current army language and the running and marching cadences, because they are the same as when I was in the army 30 to 50 years ago, and they originated in World War II. So when you see the “new” Army Uniform, probably next summer or fall, it is not new, it is correcting something that should have never been changed. If you are a young person considering enlisting, I hope that the uniform you will wear gives you an extra sense of pride, knowing that you are wearing the uniform of the United States Army. The Army that whipped the world in 1945.