Our nation’s chubby, shapeless guardians

Continuing on the theme of “Clothes make the Eloi,” Carol Iannone writes:

According to a New York Post story on Major Scott Moran’s memo, Hasan was told that he was too fat—“found to be out of standards with body fat percentage”—and was counseled about that. I did not know the Army did this. I am glad to hear it. But this counseling must not be very effective because one sees a great many overweight soldiers, who look even fatter in their ubiquitous, shapeless camouflage outfits. There were so many of what looked to be short, chubby soldiers in camouflage green at the Fort Hood memorial that it seemed as if they had been gathered for a scene in a remake of The Wizard of Oz.

- end of initial entry -

November 21

Sage McLaughlin writes:

While I basically agree with a lot of what Carol Iannone and you have said about today’s military uniforms, especially the inappropriateness of General Casey’s wearing fatigues in a national public appearance, I do have one quibble about the supposed ugliness and shapelessness of American battle dress these days.

Aesthetically, the digital pattern is less pleasing, because it’s randomly-generated and has none of the cleaner, rounded shapes of earlier jungle camo patterns. But the change wasn’t made for aesthetic reasons, it was made because the newer design is simply much more effective as camouflage Good camo does not, as some assume, simply blend a person chameleon-like into his background using color. Good camo should break up any discernable shape and form, blending the wearer into the background by reducing the viewer’s ability to see his outline against it. The outline of a soldier’s body is the thing you’re trying to obscure, and this is best accomplished using a randomly-dispersed bunch of differently-colored pixels, as opposed to using solid, coherent shapes, each consisting of a single color. Obviously, this goes for the fit as well—a battle uniform that is cut to match the soldier’s physical shape is much less effect as camouflage than something that’s cut in such a way as to obscure the outline of his body. Since an enemy is trying to use your shape against the background to identify you (that’s of course how vision works), the best camouflage obscures the wearer’s outline.

In short, this change has been made because it protects our soldiers’ lives. Shapelessness is a virtue where camo is concerned, and gives the added benefit of being easier to move around in during a fight.

LA replies:

This is very interesting. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s no need for soldiers to wear these ridiculous looking outfits outside of field and combat situations. It also doesn’t change the problem that the outfits, being ridiculous looking, may well have a negative effect on the men’s confidence and morale. I’d say it’s a legitimate question whether the marginal difference that the digital pattern arguably makes in protecting soldiers from enemy fire makes up for the loss of confidence and self-respect—and thus loss of ability to defeat the enemy—that arguably results from having to wear these clown’s outfits.

November 22

Charlie K. writes:

I work in the Washington area, and the military officers I see on the Metro train invariably are dressed in full trash-hauler regalia, including camo fatigues and combat boots. These are briefcase-toting staff officers who work in the Pentagon and other cozy venues around DC, and who have no more chance of encountering mud and dirt, much less combat, in their daily routines than I have. So, why the goofy duds?

It isn’t because individual troops are choosing these costumes when they suit up in the morning. If their superiors hadn’t designated fatigues as “uniform of the day,” these guys would be sent home to change.

The clown-suit wearing is undoubtedly a PR gesture hatched by some Pentagon genius who thinks it reminds the taxpayers that their military is at war. So, we’re presented with the spectacle of deskbound troops, from General Casey on down, dressing as though they’ve just returned from a firefight.

This bit of theatrics is fairly new. When I was in the Air Force, uniform of the day was always the most dignified option consistent with the duty and environment. In an office setting, we wore the blue suit with tie (winter) or sharply-pressed khakis (summer). Fatigues were for hands-on aircraft maintenance and other dirty work, and flight suits (which have even less shape than fatigues) were worn only when flying or on the flight line. The trash-hauler outfits were considered distinctly unmilitary in any other setting. (For example, an aircrew member who showed up at the Officer’s Club in a flight suit would be told to change or confine his drinking to the Stag Bar.) A general officer stomping around in fatigues (except perhaps in an active combat area) would have been an object of ridicule.

And, yes, we were at war then.

LA replies:

Thank you for this. It’s helpful to have this perspective.

You write:

“The clown-suit wearing is undoubtedly a PR gesture hatched by some Pentagon genius who thinks it reminds the taxpayers that their military is at war.”

That makes sense. But wasn’t this the way of military dress prior to 9/11? It seems to me it’s been this way for about 20 years. But maybe it’s gotten worse since 9/11.

Charlie K. replies:

I can’t say when it started. I moved to DC in 1989, and lived for a time in a residence hotel where a lot of military officers on temporary Washington duty stayed. I don’t recall those guys ever wearing fatigues.

On the morning of 9/11, I caught a ride to town with a Navy officer who needed a passenger so he could use the HOV lanes. We saw the Pentagon burning as we crossed the Potomac. He was wearing a conventional, well-pressed Navy uniform.

Whenever it started—and some of it might have begun before 9/11, as you suggest (perhaps during Operation Desert Storm?)—wearing fatigues in an office serves no practical purpose and can only be an extended PR stunt.

Also, and not to beat the subject to death, fatigues were my daily work dress for a time when I was stationed at the Air Force Survival School. Our commander liked the image, I guess, and wanted the staff personnel to wear what the students and instructors were wearing when they were out stomping around in the woods. I found that fatigues and combat boots were not comfortable office wear: the elastic blousing cords that held the cuffs to the boot tops tended to ride up on the calf after extended sitting, and the boots were clumsy and hot in a heated office. Also, wearing such a costume while shuffling papers just looked and felt wrong. When I wore the fatigues out in the field, they were just fine: they were being used for their intended purpose and they worked.

Carol Iannone writes:

Very good comments. And keep in mind that when our nation was really, really at war, during WWII and the Korean War, soldiers appearing in public in the states wore their dress uniforms. That actually was more reassuring than seeing them today in what looks like pajamas.

I think another reason for the camouflage is to disguise the physical differences between the sexes. And of course the effect is even worse in the chubby soldiers. And when they are all gathered together in rows, males and females intermingled, wearing those workmen’s caps, you can’t really pick out one sex or the other. They are the feminist dream, an army of androgynes.

November 23

Charlie K. writes:

Carol Iannone’s comments are spot on. I find it especially disconcerting to see a slightly-built female Army officer, encumbered with camouflage fatigues and huge desert combat boots, clutching a laptop bag and a romance novel as she rides home from her Pentagon desk job.

Women in the military are a separate, interesting subject. My Air Force days were in the waning years of the Vietnam War, when uniformed service was still a somewhat eccentric choice for a woman. I can’t recall a single case of an in-service unwed pregnancy or any of the related phenomena that bedevil today’s commanders. We did have a small subculture of WAF lesbians who tended to be ferociously competent. If we found them odd or amusing, we kept it to ourselves—not out of political correctness, but because they had earned our respect.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 20, 2009 07:31 PM | Send

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