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Dorr: Back to basics with ABUs

Jul. 3, 2013 - 04:20PM   |  
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For the past dozen years, each service branch has developed its own combat attire.

For the past dozen years, each service branch has developed its own combat attire.

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For the past dozen years, each service branch has developed its own combat attire.

The Air Force developed its Airman Battle Uniforms, called ABUs, which are costly to maintain and uncomfortable in warm climates.

The Army, Marine Corps and Navy all have distinctive work uniforms. In news stories they’re often called cammies, but I’ve never heard a service member use the term.

Now there’s a move in Congress to require a single camouflage uniform for the military. House and Senate versions of next year’s military spending bill would require service branches to issue identical work attire.

Rep. Bill Enyart D-Ill says on his official website that he wants to “eliminate waste and duplication in the military uniforms policy.” He was a force behind the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the Pentagon’s budget and was passed by the House of Representatives by a 315 to 108 vote June 14. The Senate is expected to enact a version of the legislation with the same mandate for work uniforms that are ... well ... uniform.

The proposal in the House and Senate hasn’t been met with much reaction except in the Marine Corps, where several generals have spoken out against abandoning the uniform they wear today. It’s not unusual for the Marines to go their own way, but this is one time they need to fall into step.

Standardizing the work uniform is a good idea, but in my view, it doesn’t go far enough. It’s time to restore the work uniform to its rightful place — the workplace. If you’re in an office sitting at a desk, you should be wearing service dress.

Photos of the so-called “dignified transfer” of our war dead at Dover Air Force Base, Del., send a message that the widespread acceptance of ABUs in lieu of service dress has gone too far. There’s nothing dignified about it. If you’re entrusted to transfer the coffin of an American who gave his life for this country, you shouldn’t be dressed as if you’ve just been out raking the leaves.

For work and for combat — not for ceremonies or desk-bound duties — let’s choose a straightforward, unremarkable color. Let’s keep the design cheap and simple.

And let’s forget about the concept of camouflage. It doesn’t work. Never has. Never will.

That would rule out the Navy’s current “blueberries,” those fashion disasters of black-and-blue pixels that have become a laughingstock. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told defense writers in June that the Navy attire won’t conceal you from the enemy. “The great camouflage it gives you is if you fall overboard,” Mabus said.

The sage green fatigues issued by the Air Force in the 1950s would work well for all services. They’re inexpensive, practical and almost impervious to dirt and stains. They’re not too hot and not too tight. Upkeep is easy. No, they’re not very pretty. But if I get my way, you won’t be wearing them on the parade ground.

The Air Force, the military and the nation face plenty of challenges right now. Some are complicated and demanding.

Fixing the work uniform isn’t one of those. Choosing proper work attire and using it only for work is an easy solution that’s also a good deal for taxpayers.

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