Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has driven a ’ seven-year tenure has seen a revamping of women’s uniform revamp, but now Congress is looking to stall rein in some of those changes and accusing the Navy of ignoring its own evaluation process to speedpush them through.
The move would extend the extending the window for female chiefssenior enlisted and officers to buy the re-styled combination covers that resemble those historically worn by men, and putting a halt to new choker whites and crackerjacks until the Navy provides a report on its both Armed Services Committees evaluate the Navy’s uniform changes process. These changes prompted an outcry from women officers upset they'll have to pay out of pocket for the style changes.
The House Armed Services' mark-up of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act includes a section just for the Navy's uniforms,
"The committee is concerned that recent changes to Navy female service dress uniforms, uniform covers, and other non-operational uniform components were not consistent with the Navy's standard processes for evaluating uniform items, including user test groups that represented a broad spectrum of service member locales and operational specialties, out-of-pocket expenses to service members, including members of both the Active Forces and Reserves, and the inability for the Navy to identify an operational necessity driving this uniform change during a time of fiscal constraint," the House Armed Services Committee wrote in a mark-up of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
That concern is consistent with feedback from many Navy women, who tried and didn't like gave negative feedback on wear-tests for the new uniforms. Officers also complained of the expense of replacing their existing uniforms, including one female O-5 who spoke with Navy Times.
"A lot of us have wondered how the cover and chokers were pushed through so quickly, and then when we ask about our khaki pants, we are told that that will take time to go through the process," a female O-5 said, asking that her name be withheld for career concerns.
The House’s bill would push the required wear date for the combination cover from October 2016 to October 2020, which the O-5 said would make a significant difference.
"I spent almost $200 on the one I have now and it has been barely worn," she said of the so-called bucket-style cover. "I really don't want to spend another $200 for something I may have to wear three more times before I retire."
And more time to replace her existing dress whites would be significant, the commander said.
"The uniform changes are also weighing heavily on whether I want to put on O-6 or retire, so it is a retention issue for me," she said. "A few more years before having to waste money on bogus uniform items would push me to stay in a bit longer."
A spokesman for Mabus declined to comment on pending legislation.
Two spokesmen for the Navy secretary did not Mabus spokesmen had not responded to emails and phone messages seeking requests for comment via phone and email on Friday afternoon.
'Gender-neutral' under fire
The House's action would put a hold on a host of changes rolling out of the next few years, laid out in NAVADMIN 236/15.
Women at boot camp will begin receiving restyled blue crackerjacks in October, followed by the white version in October 2017.
Senior enlisted women have until January 2020 to make the switch with their dress whites, while junior enlisted women have until that date to get blue crackerjacks, followed by the white version by no later than October 2021.
For women at the Naval Academy, who over the past few years have transitioned to combination covers and choker dress whites, 2016 graduation will see a new, restrictive uniform policy: No skirts.
The move didn't sit well with many midshipmen or academy graduates.
At the Officer Women's Leadership Symposium outside Washington, D.C., on Thursday, an academy mid stood up to voice her frustration with the pants-only policy in a question-and-answer session with the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva.
"Uniforms are designed to take away some of our identity," Selva said. "Part of it is about taking choice away, and I don't mean that to be flip. That is why we call them uniforms and not costumes."
However, he added, "I don't like the idea that we would use uniforms to strip people of their identity."
For the female O-5, the graduation uniform policy is a 180-degree turn from her own commissioning day in Annapolis.
"When I was a mid, it was mandated that we wear skirts to show that there was a significant number of us graduating," she said.
Today, women make up about one fourth of the academy.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.