I have the good fortune of residing in the spirited vacation community of Camp Fallujah, Iraq. Recently, I saw an individual dressed in the Marine combat utility uniform smoking while walking near me.
When I approached this person, I noticed he was unshaven, slovenly and, put succinctly, fat. He wore his uniform in much the same way a camel might wear his fur — unknowingly, smeared with filth and conspicuously covered in drool.
Of course this person was no Marine. As it turned out, he was an American contractor who had been “gifted” with our uniform. He was wearing it, cover off and trousers unbloused, as if he were a fourth-grader prepping himself for a wild night of trick-or-treating.
I informed him, as my obligation dictates, that all individuals who wear Marine uniforms are subject to our regulations and should wear them with the pride befitting the traditions of our Corps. The man harrumphed, replied in a somewhat muffled affirmative and walked off into the Anbar twilight, probably wondering why I was being such a jerk.
This raises a question that has crossed the minds and lips of many infuriated Marines in Iraq over the past year: Why are American civilians, Iraqi contractors and third-country nationals allowed to wear our uniform?
One of the more obvious purposes of the new utility uniforms is to instill a sense of distinction and pride among modern Marine warriors. Where does that pride go when our uniforms are issued to every Tom, Dick and Harry deployed to the same environment as Marines?
Perhaps I’m a reactionary, but I think KBR employees, who earn seven times more than most Marines, can afford to buy their own nonpatented, unofficial uniforms from a stateside military surplus store or tactical outfitter.
And the use of our pixel-pattern cammies by Iraqi civilian translators should be reserved for tactical situations. Even then, the wearer should be provided appropriate instruction beforehand.
I find it completely objectionable that these breaches of uniform standards continue to take place. The Marine Corps order was changed recently — one might say softened — to allow civilian contractors to wear our cherished cammies as long as they do not wear the eagle, globe and anchor on their eight-point covers. This works out well, since most of these civilians don’t wear their covers at all. In addition, the order states civilians must wear our utilities within Corps standards and adhere to our grooming policies.
While in this theater of operations, I have encountered dozens of civilians sporting our combat utilities, yet not one has been in full compliance with the regulations expected of those who have earned the uniform. Instead, the civilians wear bits and pieces of the uniform at their leisure or wear the entire uniform and are so ridiculously out of shape that they look as if they are smuggling pillows under their blouses.
This issue demonstrates a great disparity between doctrine and action. Doctrinally, civilian contractors are authorized to wear our utility uniforms if they feature the right accoutrements. Essentially, slap alternative name tapes and “coverup” patches on our utilities, and they become civilian fare. I call foul.
We allow our Navy brethren who serve with us to wear our uniforms because they share our sacrifices and our values. But civilian workers do not share those sacrifices. While they may share our values, they do not serve under an oath of fidelity in harm’s way, but under a contract based on monetary gain.
One of my Marines recently told me he thinks of our uniforms in much the same way he does the American flag. I fully agree with that. As members of the military, we are inculcated from our earliest days of training to have a reverence for our national colors. We salute the flag, honor it as it rises and descends each day, and rush to catch it should it fall too far toward the earth.
As Marines, we carry the eagle, globe and anchor not only emblazoned on our uniforms, but in their very fabric — in much the same way our Corps values of honor, courage and commitment should be woven into the fabric of our souls.
To have this ethos sullied, either intentionally or by outright ignorance and disinterest, is reprehensible.
Marines are the elite. We stand out. It’s easy to understand why someone would want to wear our uniforms.
But the last time I checked, that privilege is earned only in the sand pits of Parris Island, S.C.; the sun-baked parade decks of San Diego; and the winding trails of Quantico, Va.
The line has to be drawn here and now, before the Corps’ culture slips closer to becoming a novelty item to be bought and sold rather than a precious treasure to be earned and cherished.
The writer is a first lieutenant with Combat Service Support Battalion 1 in Iraq.
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