26 August 2010

Dressing Right for the Fight

If you haven't gotten the idea yet--remember "floppy socks"?--the commander and command sergeant major of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division are each sticklers for uniform standards.

"I get a little emotional about it," the decidedly unemotional commander told his staff recently here in Camp Shelby, Miss. "It will save lives. It shows discipline in our unit. If we show [the bad guys] any weakness, we're going to get it."

I remember hearing that, after Operation Desert Storm, the Army determined units that slung their M16 rifles over a shoulder were 80 percent more likely to be engaged by the enemy than units who kept their weapons in front of them at all times. And that was with the old slings--with newer "combat" slings, shorter M4 rifles, and collapsible butt stocks, the Army has made it much easier for soldiers to keep their weapons handy.

Last week, a Cavalry trooper friend of mine was driving his up-armored Humvee out to Camp Shelby training areas. "I was headed out the gate," he says, "and guess who's there, checking uniforms?" It was the brigade commander. My friend suddenly realized he wasn't wearing his gloves, or his ballistic eye-protection--goggles that will stop bits of gravel and shrapnel.

Since he was the first vehicle in line, my buddy got busted. To his credit, however, he also had the right equipment with him, and quickly made the correction.

"Soldiers know what 'right' looks like," I had overheard the brigade commander say later that same day. "If you see something that isn't right, correct it."

It might sound a little silly to civilians, but enforcing what and how uniforms are to be worn is Army Leadership 101. At Basic Training drill sergeants often put out small, arbitrary changes in the day's uniform. It can range from "tomorrow, wear only your helmet liner" to "tomorrow, lace your boots left-over-right."

Why? To see if individual soldiers display enough attention-to-detail to properly execute even the smallest change. To see if buddies look out for other buddies--"hey, dude, your uniform is wrong." And to see if peer-leaders get the word out throughout their respective fire teams, squads, and platoons.

See, soldier? There is a method to the Army madness. Your drill sergeant wasn't as crazy as you thought she was.

A couple of other random notes on uniformity:

When Red Bull soldiers are in the Camp Shelby barracks areas--an environment variously described as "in garrison," "on cantonment," and "on the FOB"--they're either to be dressed in Army fatigues or the Army Physical Fitness Uniform (A.P.F.U.). If they're in APFU, they're also supposed to wear a reflective belt for visibility--even in daylight hours.

Wearing the APFU also standardizes off-duty appearance across genders, as much as the Army can. While still more revealing than the Army Combat Uniform (A.C.U.), no one would ever describe the APFU as provocative or alluring. The Army simply doesn't want soldiers ogling other soldiers.

Civilian clothes are not authorized. You're supposed to pack at least one set of civvies for going on pass--but that's about it. Oh, and civilian clothes have to be nice enough for your chaplain to see you in. No tube-tops and Daisy Mae shorts, or "F--- the Army" T-shirts.

Finally, of course, there's the issue of the new MultiCam fatigues. The 2-34 BCT was the first Army unit to receive the Afghanistan-specific uniforms and equipment. Red Bull soldiers have been instructed to wear the new mountain boots enough to break them in, but to pack the MultiCam uniforms away until after their National Training Center rotation. After all, we wouldn't want soldiers to get the mud-colored uniforms dirty.

In the meantime, the Public Affairs team has been working on a poster that depicts "what 'Right' looks like" while wearing the new uniforms. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand uniform corrections.

More on MultiCam madness tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. One day in Baghdad in 2005, one of my teams returned from a mission into the city. It was the most deadly place in the world at that time.
    They said as they drove through another unit's AO, some silly ass Sergeant Major was stopping vehciles and checking to see if the folks had their seatbelts on. (my troops always did--excpept for the poor gunner.)

    I knew that silly sergeant major never went outside the camp...so I wondered if we could put him on a Traffic Control Point to check for seatbelts in downtown Baghdad.
    Naw...he' was just a CS MF.


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