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Marines greet new sleeves-up order with cheers, confusion

Mar. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
(Gunnery Sgt. Manuel Lopez)
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Despite the waves of happiness sweeping through the ranks in response to the new “Sun’s out, guns out” order, Pfc. Madison Randolph could only think one thing: “Oh crap.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos abruptly reversed the unpopular ban on rolling sleeves Feb. 25, drawing cheers and celebration from much of the Corps. But for many junior Marines, sleeve-rolling is a lost art.

“There’s the term ‘gunny sleeves,’ which means your sleeves just look like garbage. I didn’t want to make myself known as a boot by having gunny sleeves,” said Randolph, from Camp Lejeune’s 2nd Supply Battalion, on learning of the return to rolled sleeves.

Posted on the Marine Corps’ official social media platforms, the announcement that rolled sleeves were back went viral, shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook by Marines who missed the look. They are nearly equaled in number, however, by those who have no clue how to roll a sleeve.

According to 2013 Marine Corps manpower data, more than 50 percent of active-duty Marines have served fewer than four years. The figure is even higher for some specialties.

“In an infantry battalion, you’re going to have the majority of individuals who have not rolled a sleeve,” said Cpl. Dion Edon, of 2nd Intelligence Battalion.

Randolph, who graduated boot camp last September, said she hadn’t had any training on sleeve-rolling, except from a drill instructor who briefly demonstrated how it’s done. Now, with just weeks before the Marines switch to their desert uniform March 9, she’s worried about getting it right.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s very time consuming,” added Randolph.

Senior Marines who remember the rolled-sleeves era anticipated this confusion and lost no time passing on their knowledge.

Edon, who graduated boot camp in 2008, said he was anticipating a lot of on-the-spot uniform corrections with the switch to summer uniforms. But in the meantime, he and other NCOs are practicing “intrusive leadership”: going to their junior Marines and offering hands-on demonstrations of sleeve-rolling until they feel comfortable with the technique.

Gunnery Sgt. Manuel Lopez, who works night shifts with the Deployed Support Unit for Supply Company in Camp Lejeune’s 2nd Supply Battalion, said he received word about the uniform change on the way to work and held an impromptu training session with his 10 junior Marines during his shift. Marines from another section also participated, competing for the best result.

“I’m sure today there were classes going on all over the place on how to properly roll sleeves,” he said Feb. 26.

Lopez said he offered pointers: Don’t roll the sleeves so tight you cut off circulation, avoid baggy “gunny rolls,” pull the end of your blouse over your head to take it off quickly with tightly rolled sleeves. Junior Marines were only too eager to learn, he said, thrilled to be able to wear their sleeves rolled.

“A lot of times I’ve heard Marines saying, ‘at least when I came in, I was able to roll my sleeves,’ ” Lopez said. “It’s a way of saying ‘I’m saltier than you.’ ”

One of the biggest early policy changes of Amos’ tenure as commandant, the decision to eliminate rolled-up sleeves on the Marines’ summer camouflage utility uniform was hotly contested from the start. The Marine Corps Uniform Board pushed the change through in 2011 over the objections of Marines surveyed about the issue, who voted with a 61 percent majority to keep their rolled sleeves.

In documents describing the board’s reasoning, board members said the decision would promote uniformity in the ranks and help Marines to “train as you fight,” since they wore their sleeves long downrange.

Amos has taken questions for years about the sleeves-down policy. As recently as last year, he remained adamant: It was here to stay.

“Believe it or not, there was a period in my life when I had some good-size guns,” he said in a May 2013 interview with Marine Corps Times. “So I get it. But I have a solution to show off your guns. Wear Charlies on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — besides Friday.”

But Amos’ spokesman said the recent change of position has been in the works for some time, brought on by discussions with noncommissioned officers at the base town hall meetings he has been conducting across the Corps.

“[Amos] has taken to heart the many conversations he’s had with thousands of his NCOs in recent months,” Lt. Col. David Nevers said in an email. “After speaking to a theater full of corporals and sergeants yesterday at Quantico, he decided it was time to announce the change.”

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