There are good reasons each branch of the armed forces has distinct uniforms. Service identity, pride, and esprit de corps lead appropriately to the endurance of the Navy Dress Blue crackerjack, Marine Corps Dress Blues, and similar uniforms in the Army and Air Force. These attributes justly account for differences in less formal uniforms as well, but they have also resulted in the unnecessary plethora of combat uniforms currently in use.
Several recent news articles have highlighted the huge amounts of money and effort expended because of service desires to design “the best” combat uniform. These efforts—often duplicative and contradictory—have wasted millions of dollars, but the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform has been the most successful. Unfortunately, the Corps copyrighted the design, preventing its use across the Department of Defense.
The DOD could save money by implementing a single combat uniform, while allowing the services to still maintain their unique identities. The Marine Corps has a long history of wearing the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on the cover and right pocket of the combat uniform. Navy Seabees have their emblem on the same pocket. The Army displays unit and specialty tabs on the combat uniform. The Air Force has enlisted ranks on the sleeve. Sailors and Marines share the eight-pointed hat. These are meaningful differences justified by tradition that could (and should) be maintained without significant extra cost while sharing a single United States Combat Uniform.
Money could also be saved by eliminating multiple, unnecessary uniform changes. Management strategy may be to blame, and the Navy could learn a couple things from the Marines Corps.
Navy management includes both the Navy Uniform Board (NUB) and Navy Uniform Matters Office (NUMO). NUMO has three relatively innocuous purposes: 1.) “To maintain and interpret the Navy Uniform Regulations 2.) Monitor implementation of uniform policy 3.) Serve as the administrative support to the Navy Uniform Board” (Navy Uniform Matters information at www.public.navy.mil). However, the office’s permanent nature creates an incentive to be active and show results. Like every other program, its very existence relies on continuously doing something, even if that something is unnecessary. That means the NUMO, under the auspices of the NUB’s responsibility “to continuously review U.S. Navy uniform matters,” is motivated to make changes.
It should therefore be no surprise that millions of dollars have been spent studying and changing multiple uniforms that often fail to meet expectations. This is why sailors ended up with an enlisted service uniform that makes them look more like Marines; two working uniforms, coveralls, and the much-maligned, so-called aquaflage Navy Working Uniform (NWU); two additional NWU variants; two versions of the Camouflage Utility Uniform; and a poorly instituted Physical Training Uniform. Unfortunately, all of this change and cost resulted in the cancellation of the one uniform senior sailors actually needed: the Service Dress Khaki meant to bridge the gap between everyday wear and formal dress.
Multiple uniforms and changes thereto seem distant from one purpose of Navy Uniform Regulations: “to present a uniform image world-wide” (emphasis added by the NUMO in a Navy Uniform Board brief dated 28 March 2013).
The Marine Corps takes a different approach. The Permanent Marine Corps Uniform Board is a standing office but addresses uniform issues through irregularly scheduled Uniform Boards. Some Boards are held electronically for “hot issues,” but formal Boards called “as required” address major changes “when there are enough issues to convene” (Marines Corps Uniform Board brief available at www.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil). As such, the Corps addresses major uniform issues much less often. As an example, the proceedings of Uniform Boards 211 and 212 were reported in December of 2009 and 2011, respectively. This results in far fewer changes, arguably at less expense and higher success, and accounts for the only major Marine Corps uniform change in recent memory, the highly successful Combat Utility Uniform coveted by the other services.
It is time the Marines released their copyright to allow development of a single combat uniform for all services. Additionally, the disruption and expense of constant change needs to stop. The Navy should follow the Marines’ lead by disbanding the Uniform Matters Office and replacing it with Uniform Boards held on a strictly as-needed basis.