New Navy Uniforms
March 3, 2006
From various sources comes news of the new uniforms for the Navy, which are perhaps the most sweeping change of uniforms since the 70’s. My comments are derived from three articles: The Navy Times’ New working service uniforms approved, the Virginian-Pilot’s Unchanged Navy updates its look with new uniform, and the Navy News Service’s New Navy Working Uniform and Service Uniform Concepts Approved.
The new uniforms are the result of a three year study that the Navy conducted in which it put out different trial uniforms in different locations throughout the Navy. I’ll try to clearly describe what the new uniforms are and what they are replacing (and work through some ambiguities in the articles).
The new uniform for all pay grades (officer and enlisted) is the battle dress uniform. It will come in three varieties of color for shipboard, desert, and forest use. This uniform replaces the utility uniform and at least partially supplants the coveralls.
My views on this change are mixed and depend somewhat on exactly how this change affects coveralls.
As far as replacing utilities go, I like it. The utility uniform started to enter service in 1999 (replacing the bell-bottomed dungarees and denim shirt) and were not liked by most sailors. They aren’t particularly sailorly or military (they made you look like a postal worker or perhaps a maintenance person). Also jacket worn with it is not particularly warm; it sounds like the jacket for the BDUs will be a big improvement.
It is not clear from the articles how the BDUs supplant coveralls; the Navy Times article says "coveralls will be downgraded for use only on ships and when necessary for what officials call ‘dirty work.’ It is not clear if this means ‘only on ships and then only when there’s dirty work’ or if it means ‘on ships, or where there’s dirty work’. If the meaning is the former, then this will not be well-received. Coveralls are an extremely comfortable hassle-free uniform. Nothing can beat them for a uniform to wear while the ship is underway.
The other uniform change affects enlisted personnel from pay grades E1-E6 (Seaman Recruit to Petty Officer First Class) and is probably the more controversial of the two. It is the year round service uniform. It consists of the black garrison cap with a khaki shirt and black pants. This uniform replaces the Summer White and Winter Blue Uniforms.
The controversy derives from two things: One is its resemblance to a Marine’s uniform, and the other is the khaki shirt. In the enlisted ranks khaki has hitherto been reserved for the Chief Petty Officers.
My views are split on this change as well, but lean towards favoring it.
As far as replacing the whites go I could not be happier. The whites seem like they always need washing. Eating a meal while wearing them is always a dance with danger (and I have to do that twice a month as we wear whites year round in Orlando). They aren’t particularly sharp looking, particularly the cotton version that is the standard issue (the Certified Navy Twill version is sharper, but more expensive). When you are wearing that uniform and haven’t any ribbons yet, you look like an ice-cream man.
The blues, which have over the years been called the Gestapo uniform and more affectionately Johnny Cashes will be missed by me. When I was at Fort Meade I always looked forward to the change to winter uniforms as it is a sharp, professional looking uniform. This view was not shared by all, but I think the degree to which the people who did like it outweighed the dislike that some people had for it.
One plus is that the rank is displayed by metal color devices that are pinned to the uniform. This replaces the sewn on patches of the blues and whites. The sewn on patches are always a big hassle (and a somewhat non-trivial expense to have them sewn on) come promotion time. They will not be missed (although they do live on, of course, for the dress uniforms).
It sounds like women will welcome the new uniform as it is modified for them. Other than the optional skirts, there isn’t a difference between the men’s the women’s winter blues and summer whites, something that makes them rather unappealing and uncomfortable for women; the Navy Times is correct in noting "…women were particularly dissatisfied
with uniforms that seemed to have been designed with only the male
physique in mind."
All good sailors that have a fair amount of time in the Navy are of a curmudgeon change-resistant nature. My father, a retired officer, does not think highly of the changes, commenting that ‘Everyone wants to look like the Army’. I am sad to see the Winter Blues go but am otherwise fairly happy with the changes. It will be awhile, however, as the NNS article makes it seem that the uniforms won’t be out in the fleet until 2008, (which means that the current uniforms affected by the changes won’t be gone until at least FY 2009).