Thursday, June 16, 2011

Camouflage Cooperation

Many years ago, as the services were becoming more “Joint,” many eager beavers floated the idea that the individual service cultures should devolve into a single, joint (blended more appropriate) service that would go so far as to share a single uniform set.  I believe it was referred to for a while as going purple, or a rough blend of all of the existing uniform colors.  Suffice it to say, I personally knew of no Marines who were in favor of this idea, although in the officer brown-nosing class, I am sure there were a few. 
Marines are both aware of, and proud of the history behind their uniforms and uniform items.  They know that the uniform is what links them to previous generations of Marines and sets them apart from the other services whose uniforms pale in comparison to those of the Marines.  Switching uniforms was a complete non-starter for the Corps.
Given this, it is not surprising that the Marines are particularly defensive about sharing their camouflage uniform pattern with the Army.  They are simply protecting their distinctive Marine turf, a pretty natural reflexive response for most Marines.
I would ask the Marines to re-consider.
Allow me a few of short digressions.
My last assignment in the Marine Corps was as an operational requirements assessment officer on the Navy staff in Pearl Harbor.  My job was to evaluate the operational requirements submitted by the operational staffs (Fleet, Air Wings, etc.), prioritize them and if approved, get them into the budgeting process.  I personally evaluated all things fixed-wing tactical aviation, all air delivered ordnance, and all things Marine.  One thing I learned in that job was that money was tight, always.  A million dollars meant a lot to each of us in our respective roles in N83, and haggling for a million dollars was not uncommon.
A million dollars saved on submarine spare parts might easily fund training ammunition for a battalion of forward deployed Marines for a year.  I would say we did a fair job of making the money go as far as we could.
Digression number two.
 I was able to catch a snippet of how the Marines developed their new camouflage pattern on a show about camouflage on the History Channel.  The show depicted the intense analysis and testing that the Marines put into the development and selection of their final pattern, and I was impressed to learn that when the Army evaluated their choices it was one of the top patterns considered.  The Marines had done their homework, and it seems to have paid off.
Allow me one more digression.  In the early eighties the Marines embarked on a program in their development center in Quantico, Virginia to come up with a new PT (physical training; gym) short.  This process was long and painful.  And while I am sure that project officers were sincere and energetic, the fruits of their labor proved to be woefully in adequate.
In an era where nylon shorts had become the running norm, and indeed the standard, the Marine Corps spent millions of dollars and several (five or six as I recall) years to develop the equivalent of a 1940’s era gym short made of cotton that was so stiff that many of us would have preferred to wear the same short made of burlap.  The material was so heavy and the seams so thick that the seams at the leg openings would cut through the skin on a run of even modest length.  They were, in short (pun intended) a disaster.
So, in times of fiscal austerity and looming budget cuts, I implore the Marines to reconsider and let the Army use their successful camo pattern.  This gesture would surely save years of development and millions of dollars in testing.  And even then, a successful outcome is not guaranteed.  Save the money and use those funds for more live ammo that can be used in training or directly on our enemies.
Marines needn’t worry, they will never be confused for soldiers as their utility cover will forever be distinctive, and the Army will put enough patches on the uniform to set them apart from miles away.
I think that these two services should get together and act cooperatively in a time where wasting money developing another camo pattern, while compelling for service distinction reasons, is still a waste nonetheless.  It would be a lesson in cooperation that could serve as an example for other, less prestigious  governmental institutions to emulate.

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