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Charting A Course—Over the Side with Bridge & Pea Coats?

By Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

This should help to explain the development and importance of the “bridge coat,” which, like a buffalo robe, can keep you warm even on the most bitter of nights. In case you can’t quite picture a bridge coat, it is the classic double-breasted greatcoat that midshipmen wear during the annual Army-Navy Game. Or just think of Steve McQueen, actor and icon, who was often photographed in a pea coat, the enlisted person’s equivalent of the bridge coat, which has been in service in navies since 1800.

But not for much longer, because the Navy announced it would transition to the “cold weather parka” next year. Bridge coats, reefer coats, and pea coats will all be obsolete and non-uniform by 2020.

The author of this change, then–Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, said sailors “want uniforms that are comfortable, lightweight, breathable . . . and they want fewer of them.” Evidently, this pronouncement is taken to provide carte blanche for any imaginable uniform change. Still, it is one thing to capriciously eliminate the surface warfare officer (SWO) sweaters or invent new, two-piece flight suits out of the blue, but it is completely another to tamper with a uniform item that has served since the days of cocked hats. 

The fact that a pea coat looks terrific should not be minimized. The Navy is hardly renowned for its eye-watering fashion judgment, and those few remaining items that do look smart should be retained at all cost. Actually, at this point, one wonders exactly how the last bastion of cool Navy uniform-wear—“crackerjacks”—has avoided the scythe of “Task Force (TF) Uniform.”

TF Uniform was constituted in 2003 to ensure that sailors had “a set of uniforms which present a professional appearance, which recognizes naval heritage and offers versatility, safety, ease of maintenance, and storage, comfort, utility and cost-effectiveness.” Almost 15 years have passed, and while no one seems happier regarding their sea-bags, inventing new uniforms appears to have become a thriving enterprise. 

Whether it was shoddy PT gear, the abortive attempt to dump the “bucket cover,” or camouflage uniforms that neither breathe in summer nor insulate in winter, the results of this swirl have been twofold: First, there is an impression in the fleet that the uniform process is broken. Second, there is a suspicion that someone may be getting rich on the backs of sailors. 

As for the pea coat, one hopes this is just another flight of fancy of the sort popularized during the waning days of the last administration, when rates were considered unnecessary, a liberal transgender policy was all the rage, and operational matters seemed to be of little interest. We have bigger and better fish to fry. Tell us Steve McQueen isn’t rolling over in his grave.

Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62).



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