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Friday, July 20, 2018

Army Uniform Standards Have Changed For The Worse


By JIM PURCELL

Like a lot of soldiers from the 1990s and before, part of our everyday lives in uniform included polishing boots and pressing uniforms, even when it was applied to fatigues. Today, that isn’t a part of a soldier’s requirements. Soldiers do not press uniforms or polish boots.
There is no replacement for looking squared away.

   Certainly, many civilians will think that caring for boots and uniforms is superfluous to the important mission the Army performs. However, I would disagree with this.

   When conditions permit it, pressed uniforms and shined boots reflect not only professionalism but also the personal motivation of individual soldiers. I saw a soldier yesterday at the Veterans Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. He was a seasoned soldier, who held the rank of sergeant first class. On his left shoulder was the unit patch for the North Carolina Army National Guard, and on his right shoulder he displayed his 1st Infantry Division combat patch.
   This soldier had put in a lot of effort and work to become a senior non-commissioned officer. He has served his nation in times of war and peace. But, did he look the best he could? No, not by a long shot. But, it’s not his fault, that is how the Army goes these days.

   Why is that even important?
Shined Corcoran Jump Boots

   Well, when I see a police officer who has spent time on his uniform and boots or shoes, it tells me something about the character of the police officer. If a police officer takes his position seriously, then his shoes will be polished, his uniform will be pressed and he will be wearing his pistol belt correctly. Immediately, in one glace, I know that I am speaking to someone who is invested in his role as a police officer. And, it matters. Every reaction and interaction that happens with that police officer’s contact with me is colored by that initial impression.

   When I was a soldier in the 1980s and ‘90s, soldiers competed with one another to gain rank. One small part of that competition included how soldiers looked, on a day-to-day basis. How does a soldier represent themselves, their unit and the Army? What impression is being left?

   While I was a soldier stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany, between 1986-1988 with the 2nd Armored Division (Forward), our uniform standards were high. It just so happened that when my wife and I, as well as a few friends, traveled to West Berlin, we had to travel through then-East Germany to get there. Along the course of the trip, as happened regularly, the train was stopped by the Soviet military to check the identities of everyone who was on board. It was late, about 1 a.m. when the train stopped. It was a sleeper cabin, so my wife woke me up in expectation of showing my ID and papers to the soldiers climbing aboard the train.
Are these soldiers as sharp as they can be? Maybe not. 

    My wife and I could hear the soldiers going from cabin to cabin until they showed up outside our door. There stood a Soviet officer and two soldiers. And, they looked amazing. Their boots were highly shined, their uniforms were pressed perfectly and there was not a ribbon out of place. Meanwhile, the officer’s leather pistol belt was shined and the soldiers’ AK-47s positively gleamed. Do not forget, this duty of theirs was happening in the middle of the night, yet still these soldiers took the extra time to make sure they represented their unit, their Army and even their country in a professional manner.

   I was so impressed by the way these guys looked, I said automatically, “You guys look sharp.” Neither the officer or the soldiers acknowledged the compliment as they checked our paperwork.
So, what did I take away from that meeting? Alright, these border guards took their job very seriously. Not only was their manner efficient and crisp, but they looked like professional soldiers. It was evident that their equipment was good to go and that they had put the work in on maintenance. Their appearance told me the Russian soldier cared about his job and his service, and it earned a level of respect.

   A regular part of every soldier’s life is maintaining their vehicles, communications equipment, weapons systems and personal weapons. This much has not changed. This is done so that the Army can shoot, move and communicate. If an army cannot do any one of the three then it is not much of an army. While such maintenance is routine, it is also a testament to individual soldiers’ abilities to focus and pay attention to detail. How a soldier looks in garrison, or where it is practical, makes a potent statement about who that soldier is underneath the uniform.
These collars are pressed and starched

   I say ‘where it is practical’ because there are circumstances where care of a uniform and boots just doesn’t work out well. When a soldier is in the field, uniforms are going to get grungy, boots will be in mud and water or whatever. So, it is understandable that a standard for a soldier in garrison would not be applied to them.

   Yet, a soldier in garrison has no business whatsoever appearing no better than a soldier working in the field.  It is counter-intuitive that wrinkled uniforms and dull, dirty boots be the standard in the U.S. Army.

   I spoke to a soldier who was in the Army recently, and he said that he was glad the Army didn’t go for “spit and polish” anymore. When it comes down to it, though, isn’t caring for one’s boots and uniform a mark of professionalism?

   I don’t care what the Army changes its uniforms too. I do not care what the latest military fashion is. All I am saying is that it would be a better reflection of the Army, and all the uniformed services too, if uniforms could be pressed (shall I go so far to say starched?) and boots be shined. Being a soldier is serious business and looking right is just one aspect of military professionalism.


19 comments:

  1. You need to get a life if this upsets you.

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    1. I get what he is saying. The problem is, all things are not equal. I was a Quartermaster for a short time. When I arrived and was put in charge first thing I noticed was my cooks and soldiers on KP were not given time to sleep. Kind of hard to focus on high standards when your sleep deprived. Just saying.

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  2. The care of ones uniform along with their quarters, be it barracks or housing falls in line with discipline and pride. If one can't care for the "smaller" things it's very unlikely they will care for anything else. One thing I've seen all to often is soldiers not wearing their cover outside, be it on or off post. I know it's a different time with different standards, and sadly I do believe miltary standards have declined and it's shown it's ugly head all to often. Don't get me wrong, I know there are strack troops out there just not as many and that includes enlisted, warrants and commissioned. Discipline appears to be pushed aside and replaced with coddling and social standards, as in civilian life. The military is not civilian life with it's freedoms and carefree ways. Military life is a warriors life, it's a life of discipline, focus, high standards and pride in country and unit, not a life of taking the easy way.

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    1. I served from 1965 to 1989; enlisted as E-1, made SP-6; retired as MAJ. In 1998 I was honored to be the Guest of Honor at my son's AIT graduation, Ft. Gordon. As the CO guided me through the barracks, he was proud of the "high standards" and the condition of the 4-man rooms. I noticed that the floors were NOT buffed; the beds were not squared with 'hospital corners'; the boots were just 'brush-shined', not 'spit-shined.' The BDU's were clean, but not pressed, much less starched. There were dust-bunnies under the furniture and bunks; dust on the window sills. My point, from these observations, is that if HIGH STANDARDS are not set, mediocrity becomes the standard. If discipline is not enforced, how can the soldier be expected to WANT to succeed, or excel? "Spit-and-Polish" may be 'Old School', but IMHO, it produced a motivated, disciplined troop. Imagine if the 1st Bn-3rd Infantry Regiment lessened their standards? Just food for thought.

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  3. I agree, i was extremely proud with my spit shined jump boots, my maroon beret and class A uniform. You can tell the old school soldiers compared to the new ones. If you were not squared away you were pushing dirt or if it were something more important you could lose a weekend.

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  4. From 75-95, spit shined boots pressed fatigues, today the Military seems to be catering to snowflakes, I heard, and please tell me it’s a rumor, that in basic tvete is something called a “STRESS CARD”. Hmmm! So that’s what today’s Army has come too.. Very sad....On the plus side, in Combat, you can always hold up your stress card so the Opfor can stop shooting at ya...

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    1. Could it be that the "Stress Card" is what we, in the Korean War, referred to as a "TS Card"? We used to say, "Take it to the Chaplain, get a turn at the 'Crying Towel' and he'll punch your TS Card". I'm sure you can guess what the TS stands for.

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  5. From 75-95 We shined our boots and wore pressed fatigues, today’s Army seems to be catering to snowflakes. I have heard and hope it’s not true, that in basic future soldiers are given something called a “STRESS CARD” I mean seriously, on the plus side, I guess in combat, you can always hold up the card so the OPFOR will back off so not to stress ya.. SMH!!

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  6. U.S. military has been pussified. Too many whiney babies and political correctness issues. Go back to standards we had before during Nam. Stop privatizing our military. Make America Great Again, Impeach the Orange Coward in Chief, he is no leader.

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    1. There are no more leaders like IKE, no mater who is the President. He was the last of the real leaders. Hyped Politicians are the worst leaders. They are hyped because they can be controlled by outside sources once they get into the position. Want a real strong military, get a strong military leader to run for office, and please no perfumed princes. It ain't Grampa's Army anymore. They handled sensitivity training with your head being held down a field latrine.

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  7. I served in 2AD (FWD) 87-89 and can attest to the high standards. No Slack was our motto. This was my first duty assignment. It is interesting to recall how soldiers that PCS'd in struggled to come up to the standards upon arrival. When I went stateside those same high standards did not apply. However, I carried on the standard instilled in me. The competition to look great became much easier because of this. Now 30 years later, I iron and shine daily for work. I recall my father being the same way. He was in Germany from 61-63. Growing up I saw him squared away every day. Hindsight shows me that the Army instilled this trait in him, then in me. I'm thankful to have it and sorry today's troops don't learn the life lesson of "squared away." As we know, LIFE is a competition and being squared away is step one.

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  8. I served in 2AD (FWD) 87-89 and can attest to the high standards. No Slack was our motto. This was my first duty assignment. It is interesting to recall how soldiers that PCS'd in struggled to come up to the standards upon arrival. When I went stateside those same high standards did not apply. However, I carried on the standard instilled in me. The competition to look great became much easier because of this. Now 30 years later, I iron and shine daily for work. I recall my father being the same way. He was in Germany from 61-63. Growing up I saw him squared away every day. Hindsight shows me that the Army instilled this trait in him, then in me. I'm thankful to have it and sorry today's troops don't learn the life lesson of "squared away." As we know, LIFE is a competition and being squared away is step one.

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  9. 83-87, most of my in a 32-man Nike Herc unit in remote FRG. Undiluted Sta-Flo & Kiwi were in my daily routine. Nothing less was acceptable. My NCO's set the standard, we took care if the little things and everything more important.

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  10. Starch and spitshine were great for garrison dolders like personal and finance andifthey still want to look good let them wear their class A or B uniformd to work in their offices.
    I would much rather be in a unit that is combat ready, with unannounced IG ispectios, then in a spitshine,paint your vehicles and you pass the pre-planned one year in advance IG.
    Starch clogged up the fibers in a uniform so the fabric couldn't breath, making the uniform hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The starch and pressing also broke the buttons and cased wear holes in the pocket flaps.
    The spit shine on boots would also not let the leather breath causing them to root and crack.
    I much prefered the water proof fur lined German Army boot, I dispised the spitshine jump boot.

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  11. when i wore the BDU'S I had them starched and boots shined everyday

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  12. 1962 -64 as an enlisted man, draftee. Starched uniform, shined boots were the uniform of the day. I had to be presentable because I never knew from one minute to the next who would walk into my duty station. (We were famous for our coffee pot location, especially with our 2 Generals on Post. I was a full blown REMF Chairborne draftee doing garrison duty. There is talk now about the brown Class A's coming back. I wish they were still in use when I was in, I always wanted to look like Clark Gable. I lived with the uniform changes til 1992. OH, I got my revenge on the Army for drafting me just by staying in. E-1 to O-6, what a ride!

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  13. If you're not proud enough of being a soldier to look "Spit and Polished", then perhaps you shouldn't be one. When I was in the Military from 1951 - 1974 it was required, but it didn't have to be, because everyone learned quickly in Basic, that "Spit and Polish" was your image, and the pride in that made it become automatic.

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