Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gates: Please stop wearing your camo pajamas to work, k txs.

In a move that I roundly applaud, Secretary Gates has apparently told his military staff to stop wearing cammies/ACUs/utilities/battle dress/whatever else you want to call it to the office.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has told his military aides not to wear combat fatigues to work at the Pentagon anymore, reversing a symbolic change of protocol ordered in the harrowing days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

There was no formal announcement about Mr. Gates directing his military staff to shed their fatigues in favor of business uniforms — the smartly pressed ones bedecked with combat medals and service ribbons that are the military equivalent of a civilian coat and tie, worn with dress shoes and not combat boots.

But throughout the Defense Department, where every action by the civilian boss is parsed by officers with a care akin to old-school Kremlinology, Mr. Gates’s decision is likely to prompt deliberations across the armed services on whether to have personnel working in the Pentagon follow his example.

The defense secretary’s instructions took effect with the start of the new year and were directed at only some of the 23,000 employees at the Pentagon. Even so, the change has been noticed by recent visitors to Mr. Gates’s third-floor suite of offices and has become a topic of conversation along the Pentagon’s 17.5 miles of corridors.

I've bitched about ACUs before (a lot). I was looking for evidence of it on the blog but I guess I've mostly just subjected my girlfriend and coworkers to my tirades. (Note to self: get life.) Seriously though, are we just now reaching the conclusion that it's effing stupid to wear a combat uniform to a meeting with foreign dignitaries? Or even just around a conference table where you're joined by a bunch of DoD civilians and contractors in suits and ties? Like that revelation just came as a bolt from the blue??

Anyway, I haven't personally noticed a trickle-down effect just yet -- the halls are still filled with ACU-clad field-grades and Air Force dudes in their six or seven different "combat uniforms" -- but I have all my appendages crossed that everyone else will get the message. As for now, this bodes well, as it does every time the Department takes a step away from stupid.


  1. I never had any objection to it. In my opinion, the less time that you spend fretting over the many particulars of your uniform, the more time that you have available to focus on your job. Neat thing about ACUs is that you can jump in your vehicle, make a quick run to the nearby diner, grab a quick bite to eat, and any grease or condiments that drip onto your uniform blend in with the camo. There is no crease to worry about in your pants. No concern over wrinkling your no-wrinkle "jacket." Also, dress uniforms are uncomfortable (well, at least if you're accustomed to wearing ACUs - I still hate wearing formal attire and I'm nearing 2 years since ETS). Granted, you're probably not going to be executing any battle drills or trying too hard to blend in with any surroundings, but that's why they don't augment the uniform with field equipment and why they don't apply camouflage paint to their face, neck, ears, and hands.

    Now berets - jeez. I don't know what prompted Shinseki to put his brain under his pillow, but he certainly got a windfall from the Bad Idea Fairy. Doesn't keep the sun out of your eyes, leaves an imprint on your forehead, and requires two hands to don properly (though I eventually mastered a one-handed "close enough" don). I'd like to see Gates nix that mistake.

  2. In my opinion, the less time that you spend fretting over the many particulars of your uniform, the more time that you have available to focus on your job.

    Dude, come on. I wear a suit every day and I'm still capable of getting my job done. (It's not like you're gonna go stand inspection at 1700 during your Pentagon tour.) Not only that, but you have an extra ten minutes every morning because you don't have to match your shirt to your tie!

    Honestly, the Navy has this right. There's no reason you should be hugely inconvenienced by putting on a service uniform. It doesn't have to be greens/Class As or whatever the hell they call that uniform nowadays -- it's been so long since anyone's worn it that I don't even know -- but rather the short-sleeved version with no tie. Plus, garrison cap/piss cutter is way easier than a beret, as you've pointed out.

    Weak sauce!

  3. I guess I don't understand why the spiffy uniform is so appropriate. It seems that the uniform serves the purpose of - wait for it - uniformity. And displaying one's name and rank so that others know approximately where you fall in the pecking order. So, unless everyone has their names emblazoned upon their reflective belts/vests, then IPFU would be inappropriate. But other uniforms all seem up for grabs. In choosing one, I would opt for practicality.

  4. Sure, the uniform is about uniformity. But it's also about professionalism. It's ludicrous to suggest that the only thing that's important is for everybody to look the same; in that case, why don't we civilians wear our bathrobes to work?

    A "spiffy uniform," just like professional dress, is a means to show respect to the people you work with -- particularly when this includes representatives of foreign governments and other organizations. I don't think this is a real news flash to anyone, even though I sort of feel like a grandpa for saying it. Why do you have to shave and get a haircut? Why do you wear clean clothes when you go on a date?

    Is this really that complicated?

  5. And how many Pentagon office minions are meeting with representatives of foreign governments?

    I agree on Admiral Mullen donning his (whatever that uniform is called) and anyone else meeting with bigshots. If I'm the guy who sits in some windowless dungeon making slides for the safety brief for the 5K run... come on. The guy sitting next to me will probably be making slides for something equally mindless. Is he going to feel slighted if I show up in ACUs rather than Class B? If so, does he really belong in the military?

    Why do you wear clean clothes when you go on a date?
    Hopefully for different reasons than I wear clean clothes to work.

  6. I feel a bit like I'm banging my head against the wall on this one. Seriously: why is there a standard of dress for civilians in the workplace? (I don't even mean the DoD workplace, but any workplace?) Because the way you dress conveys a personal and professional message about the seriousness and level of dignity that you invest in your work. And it's not just about work, either: what about all the people you sit next to on the Metro, or walk past on the street, or order from at lunch? How about the tourists, the people from other countries, the dude you walk past in the hall at the Pentagon that had the decency to wear his service uniform to the HEADQUARTERS OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY IN OUR NATION'S CAPITAL? Can't we expect the same from a guy whose professional demands are limited to putting together a slide deck about a 5K?

  7. Maybe now Rosslyn won't look like it's being invaded at lunch time on weekdays.

  8. Okay, I promise not to keep beating this dead horse. Obviously, I don't associate any negative message from ACUs and I guess you do and I don't think we're going to find much resolution to that difference. So, last comment (unless you pose another question).

    The message sent by one's appearance is in large part filtered through one's expectations. People don't expect any particular mode of dress from Soldiers because they don't know anything about the military. To most people, a uniform is a uniform. If they see a Soldier wearing ACU's, they don't think "geez, that guy sure chose something casual." They think, "that must be what he's required to wear."

    I spent a short stint working in DC. Had I reversed my name and US Army or wore my unit patch upside-down, nobody would have noticed. But, if I had long hair, forgot to shave, wore earrings, or my beret looked like a chef hat, then that would not have conformed to the clean-cut, attention-to-detail expectations of a Soldier and it would have been noticed.

    Most civilians look at a Soldier and they simply notice that he has a sharp appearance, regardless of which uniform is worn. They see that he is clean shaven, got a fresh haircut, his uniform is clean, his accouterment is deliberately placed, his boots are clean, his beret is clean, shaved, shaped, and stylishly worn. His bootlaces are tucked in. He is not sporting bracelets, necklaces, earrings, facial piercings, and even goes so far as to not carry an umbrella in the rain out of deference to Army regulations.

  9. No umbrellas!

    I have to say that as a civilian - a uniform is a uniform is a uniform. I think Schmedlap is correct that a lot of people are really responding to certain telling details - "clean-cut" being one of them - and expectations. "This is how our Soldiers look... ."

    Gulliver, maybe it's because you are DC-centric that you think the above? In terms of the hospitals that I've worked, the expectations have differed widely in terms of dress, particularly depending on the part of the country the hospital is situated. Boston is formal and I quite often wore a suit to work, as did many of the other physicians, male or female. Around here, a midwestern Catholic not-for-profit teaching hospital that serves a wide range of populations (including underserved groups), it's more casual. It's the white coat that people notice and respond to, whether you are the spiffy young surgeon with the tie and the crisp white coat (or high heels, dress skirt and crisp white coat), or the shaggy dog, er, pathologist in clogs, scrubs and rumbled white coat. To the layperson a uniform and a certain demeanor dictate how you are received. I know the two situations I contrast are not identical, I'm just saying to a layperson the fine distinctions you make may not be made.

    (I admit, for more high-level stuff, this might be different. Anyway, it's always the tin-pot dictator types that are obsessed with this kind of thing, anway. Yes or no? Seems like it. Power talks and a powerful person can wear a lot of stuff and get respect.)