22 October 2007

Uniform nonsense

I was clicking around yesterday and found this little gem on Military.com: Marine Dress Code Changes Communities

Long story short, the Marine Corps is "clarifying" and "reiterating" the degree to which it frowns upon anyone seeing a Marine off base in "cammies" (the utility uniform). Seeing as the Marine Corps has recently spent 18 bazillion dollars on a new, fancy, digital uniform, you think they'd want people to see it, but...that's my Marine Corps for you.

Under the new regulation, Marines in camouflage cannot get out of their vehicles to run an errand or grab a meal on their way to or from the base. No pumping gas, running into the post office or picking up a cup of joe, either.

Although Marines were always largely prohibited from wearing uniforms off base, they were allowed to make brief stops during their commutes. Now they can stop only for a medical emergency, a traffic accident or a breakdown.

This reminds me of a story.

Back in 1999, I was living and working on Camp Hansen, Okinawa. Our main office was on Camp Foster, and we ended up down there several days a week. I had a couple of junior Marines assigned to me, and the three of us shared custody of one "GOV" (Government Owned Vehicle).

I can't remember which of my boys was with me, nor exactly which GOV we were driving, but one night the vehicle just flat-out died on the highway right before the Kin Exit (where you got off to go to Camp Hansen). We took one good look at the van, diagnosed it as way beyond our mechanical ability, and decided to hoof it home it in the dark.

Camp Hansen is perched atop a fairly large hill. It's not a long walk - all the way from the derelict to our barracks was probably not even two miles. But it is uphill all the way, and there are plenty of Marines driving up and down the hill.

My Marine and I set to trudging. It had been a long day, and walking the last couple miles home wasn't high on either of our lists, but we were strolling along and shooting the breeze.

A car pulled over, and the door nearest us opened.

"Hey! Who's senior there?" The Marine driving barked at us.

"That'd be me. Corporal [Abby]," I leaned down and extended a hand in to shake.

"Devildog, are you not aware that cammies are not to be worn off base? You are an NCO, and you should know -"

"Pardon me - our vehicle broke down on the expressway and we're walking back to camp. We really don't have a choice."

"Well, I suppose that's alright." He slammed the door again and drove off. Just. Like. That.

I looked at my Marine, and my Marine looked at me.

"What an asshole."

"Yeah. Let's go."

I was a very junior NCO at that point. These days, I'd be more inclined to engage in a shouting match, or to start taking off my clothes in the middle of the road in order to make my point. (Just because I am not so junior does not mean I'm any more reasonable, I'm just louder.)

Unfortunately, along with all that's wonderful about the Marine Corps, that stuck in my mind as an example of the pettiness that lurks in an organization so obsessed with its own rules.

I don't know who that NCO was who stopped on the side of the road with the express purpose of being a dickhead. He had that senior sergeant/junior staff sergeant look to him, but it's hard to tell in the dark. He is, however, a cousin to those joyless bastards who used to lurk at the WalMart nearest 29 Palms and accost young men with short hair who weren't wearing belts.

However, I imagine, that when this "new" regulation was being written, he or someone very like him was there.

Andrea Cerda, who works at Dorothy's Military Shop, a tailor shop, said it is not uncommon to see Marines changing clothes in their car, wriggling out of their pants and boots and into civilian wear.

"You see them bending around their steering wheel or moving back and forth in the driver's seat and you know what they are doing," she said.

It's the Marine Corps, and you know what you're getting into when you sign up. I don't think that sort of regulation is evil, or unreasonable, or draconian.

But it is silly and tiresome. One would think there'd be a middle ground between the Army (where it's socially acceptable to wear your utilities everywhere - I've seen Soldiers bowling off case in utilities - do they not own civilian attire?) and the Marine Corps' do-not-let-the-world-see-your-uniform weirdness.

(Note for those confused - the appropriate response from the jackass Marine who pulled over would have been a lecture about how we should have been carrying a change of clothes in case something like this happened, and it would have been delivered as he was giving us a ride back to the base - which was three minutes away by car)