Though the Navy working uniform was rolled out in 2008, some sailors still haven’t gotten the hang of its details. (Staff)
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Crushed and crooked eight-point covers. Poorly bloused pants carelessly shoved into the boots. Shirts so small, the buttons are straining to the breaking point.
These are just a few examples of improper wear of the Navy working uniform — and sailors tell Navy Times they are fed up with their sloppy shipmates.
Though the new uniform was rolled out in 2008, some sailors still haven’t gotten the hang of its details. Or worse, sailors say others are just flat-out flouting the rules.
“Honestly, it’s an embarrassment to the Navy,” said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Kelsey Conway. “I witnessed a sailor the other day wearing his NWU cover backwards! I couldn’t believe it.”
Conway is just one sailor among hundreds who wrote to Navy Times last month when we asked for feedback about sailors incorrectly wearing their aquaflage cammies.
Part of the problem is the sheer volume of uniform regulations, and the fact they are contained in a series of hard-to-navigate NAVADMINs. There are 11 messages, totaling 33 pages and nearly 9,600 words of instruction.
“I think most sailors really want to be right, but it’s just confusing because the rules are dispersed throughout a bunch of messages,” said one sailor from Navy Personnel Command, who asked to remain anonymous.
That opinion is shared by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens, who said having almost a dozen messages makes it hard for sailors to learn and follow the rules. Fixing that problem has been one of his top priorities since becoming the top enlisted sailor in September.
His plan is to consolidate all of the messages into a single NAVADMIN. This will state what to wear, and how and when to wear it.
Stevens is also working with recruit training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., to create a video showing all of the uniform components and how to wear them.
Both the video and message are expected to be released around the end of this month.
“We believed we owed our sailors the best opportunity to be successful with regards to the uniform wear of the NWU and felt like if we captured all of the information into a single document and provided a training video with that NAVADMIN, that it would be the right thing to do,” Stevens said.
The most prevalent complaint from sailors is that their peers can’t seem to wear their covers right.
“It’s an eight-point cover, people, not an eight-curve ball cap,” commented Sara Bruner on the Navy Times Facebook page.
Sailor bad habits include: pulling the cover down too low; letting it sit way back on the head like a yarmulke; and tilting it to the side.
And those corners aren’t always crisp, and come off looking like “a pan of unpopped Jiffy popcorn.”
But while some complained about sailors curving the brim of the cover, a slight curve is encouraged, said Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Martha Kastler, assistant head of Uniform Matters, who visited Navy Times to instruct on the proper wear of the NWU.
The main thing is not to curve that cover so much that it looks like a ball cap.
Another uniform mistake that rankles sailors is improperly rolled sleeves.
“I hate when dirtbags roll their sleeves up to their shoulders,” Eric Britt wrote on Facebook. “Ain’t nobody got time for that. Put those pythons away there, hulk.”
Sleeves should be rolled only to 2 inches above the elbow.
Readers similarly complained about sailors blousing their trousers too high or too low. The blousing strap, purchased separately from the uniform, should be between the third and fourth eyelets from the top of the boot. Readers noted that some sailors didn’t use blousing straps, preferring to just tuck pant legs into the tops of boots, which is not allowed.
Some of the worst offenders, as observed by the sailor at NPC, are senior officers.
“If they can’t shell out $2 for the blousing straps, how can we expect our junior sailors to?” he said.
Sailors are also often caught wearing the wrong boots.
One commenter admitted he wears the wrong boots not because he doesn’t know better, but because the Navy regulation boots hurt his feet so much. A few other sailors agreed that both the rough and smooth 9-inch black boots are uncomfortable.
Another issue many may not notice: sailors not wearing belts.
“Time and time again, patients come to medical to get shots, not thinking they are going to deblouse,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SW/AW) Stephanie Acevedo.
When they do, many times there is no sign of a belt.
“Just because a uniform item is not seen does not mean it’s optional,” she said.
Lastly, readers also complained about sailors wearing shirts either too big or too small.
“Sure, it hides your gut, but it also makes the NWU top go down to your knees,” commented Stacy Katzenstein on Facebook. “You look ridiculous.”
Leading by example
When even the bosses aren’t following the regulations, it makes younger sailors think they can blow off the rules as well, the NPC sailor said.
Stevens acknowledged that Navy leadership isn’t always setting the best example.
“Oftentimes when you find a sailor who is not wearing the uniform correctly or not wearing it in the correct place, there’s a good chance that they are doing that because they’ve observed somebody else doing that,” he said. “A young sailor is, in many ways, a reflection upon the leadership that they serve with.”
If you notice an individual’s uniform is out of regs, Stevens encourages you to correct that individual, regardless of rank, with dignity and respect.
In fact, Stevens had the opportunity himself to approach a petty officer who was wearing the NWU in an airport while on civilian travel with his family. Wearing the uniform while traveling commercial air is against the rules. Making sure not to embarrass the sailor in front of his wife, he introduced himself and asked the sailor to change into the civilian clothes in his carry-on bag.
“I asked him if he could do me a favor and go to the restroom and change out of that uniform, and put the civilian clothes on and he was very respectful,” Stevens said. “There was a minor confusion whether or not he could wear it, and I cleared it up for him.”
MCPON’s anecdote touches on a separate issue of the NWU — when and where sailors can wear it.
The wear rules were loosened Jan. 1, 2012, allowing sailors to make short stops while wearing NWUs on their way to and from work. However, there is still some confusion about what constitutes a short stop.
For example, picking up your child from day care, filling your tank at a gas station or shopping at a convenience store are all OK.
But weekly grocery shopping and meals after work fall into a gray area that has left many sailors confused.
One commenter on Facebook noted that he sees Seabees wearing the NWU in lots of places not authorized by the wear rules and that he blames leaders for not enforcing the rules.
“They wear theirs to Wal-mart to go shopping at all hours and for everything and have no clue how to wear it in general, let alone in public,” reservist Construction Electrician 2nd Class (SCW) Mike Brophy wrote.
When it comes to correcting sailors, MCPON probably has an easier time than other enlisted.
“When a sailor is told to correct the issue, they either correct it for the time being, or ignore that you said anything,” a sailor stationed on the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote via email. “In general, I think sailors know the regulations but choose to not follow them because no one is enforcing them.”
Stevens acknowledges that while one-time fixes are important, it’s even more important to make sure the sailor understands the issue and changes it throughout the rest of his Navy career.
“When correcting your sailor’s uniform deficiency, as important as it is to get that situation corrected at that particular point in time, it’s important that the conversation that you have with that sailor is enduring, that it lasts, and that the sailor understands what they need to be doing and they’re not just correcting the situation for a moment in time, but that it is a career change for them,” Stevens said. “So the education piece to me is very important.”
One reader wrote that some leaders in today’s Navy are unwilling to take the time.
“The problem is attitude and the ‘not my problem’ mindset that allows people to walk by a sailor that looks like crap and think ‘I’m too busy,’” said Harold Newbill via Facebook.
Conversely, Stevens said, “Sometimes we need to take the time to say, ‘Hey shipmate, you look good in uniform. Well done.’”
New guidance on the way
Once a single NAVADMIN compiling all relevant NWU messages is complete, it will be for all hands.
“I’d encourage all of us to read this NAVADMIN and watch this video regardless of who you are,” Stevens said.
The video may even be more applicable to those sailors who entered service before 2008 and didn’t learn how to wear the NWUs in boot camp.
“If you didn’t go through [NWU instruction at] boot camp, you never got trained face to face,” Stevens said.
The message and video will be available online on the Navy’s message traffic site at www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc. Click on “New Messages.” They will also be available on the All Hands video channel, accessible from www.navy.mil.
Stevens said to expect some uniform changes in this NAVADMIN, as well. There will be the addition of one new NWU uniform item and relaxed wear rules for another.
He declined to elaborate on either of these topics, as they had not been approved by the chief of naval operations.
While Stevens is aimed at positive reinforcement and clarified rules, some readers called for harsher punishments for repeat uniform violators.
“If I see a sailor with a sloppy or improper uniform every other day for two weeks, there is very little I can do about it if he is not in my command,” a master-at-arms wrote via email. “There will be little to no action taken regardless of what that sailor does. Sailors know this, and have little care for what they wear or look like in their uniform. They absolutely know there will be little to no consequences no matter what they do.”
Stevens said existing policy is sufficient to handle these cases.
“I think that each situation has to be dealt with separately because each scenario is a little bit different,” he said.
Punishment for improper wear can fall under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a sort of catch-all article. It could also fall under Article 92, or failure to obey a lawful order. Punishment can range from counseling to mast and, for repeat offenders, it could even get them kicked out, according to a spokeswoman with the chief of naval personnel.
Determining punishment for improper wear of the uniform is the job of each command and can vary, the spokeswoman said.
Ultimately, Stevens emphasized that while many sailors and leaders are wearing the uniform properly, there’s still room for improvement.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we’re doing everything we can to be professional and wear the uniform in a professional way,” he said.
Proper wear of the uniform would be a top priority for Stevens even if 100 percent of sailors across the fleet were wearing the uniform the right way.
“I would ask leadership and our sailors in general to engage in this effort for professional wearing of our uniforms — whether we had a lot of problems, some problems or no problems,” he said. “This is just what we do. It just has to be a continuous discussion.”
Navy Times readers, via Facebook, shared which NWU wear mistakes annoy them the most. A sampling:
The whole cover issue doesn’t seem to register with people. It’s not supposed to look like a damn puff ball.
— Braun Schneider
As a former Marine who went Navy, the wearing of the cover and blousing of the boots bugged me. I held a little impromptu class on boot blousing once.
— Troy LaShomb
Sailors need to quit sagging their pants and smashing their covers down like a beanie.
— Andrew Spears
Unfortunately, I am still not 100 percent sure on how my eight-point cover is supposed to be worn. Every time I ask one of my fellow shipmates, I do not get any consistent answers.
— Ukyira Jones
No matter what your rank, if you are UNSAT, I am going to say something because you are representing the uniform and what it means to wear it. If you can’t, go find another uniform to wear.
— Karla Ebert
I say it’s a lack of leadership squaring the individuals away. If the top ranks are sloppy and lazy, guess what? The junior personnel [will be, too]. Fix the top, and the lower ranks will follow.
— Daniel Yepez
RESPECT THE UNIFORM
If you’re a dirtbag who doesn’t take good care of your uniform, the NWU will show that to your supervisors. If you’re squared away, the NWU will make you shine.
— Catherine Gantz
The only problem is lack of pride. You know your job as a military man or woman. Fix yourself, sailors!
— Joel Anthony Loveall
It is these lazy people that have no pride in the uniform or respect for rules. One simple thing we ask you to do and that is wear your uniform right and they can’t do that. And then they cry because they get treated like little kids.
— Mike Jameson
The uniform doesn’t instill pride; pride makes the uniform.
— Howarde Williams