Morale: The Commandant Blinks


October 23, 2011: Once more, the U.S. Marine Corps leadership has changed the rules about how marines can wear their uniforms, and managed to mess with morale. The latest decree forbids rolling up the sleeves of combat ("utility") uniforms. Until now, this was allowed, at the discretion of a unit commander. There were even regulations on how to do it. All was well. But then some of the brass noted that while some commanders allowed rolled up sleeves, others did not, and this did not present a single look to the world. This hurt the morale of some senior marine officers, and they declared that rolled up sleeves must go. The head of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Commandant, signs off on stuff like this.

This sort of thing is nothing new. Four years ago, the brass decided that it was not good for the image of the Marine Corps for marines to wear their combat uniform off base, and the few exceptions, the only exceptions, were listed. This new regulation nullified many exceptions to this old rule that had been established by the commanders of many marine bases. The new rule allowed marines to wear their cammies (camouflage) uniform while driving from their off-base home to and from work. But they could not get out of their vehicle while wearing cammies unless it was an emergency (an accident, or some matter of life-and-death importance.) Marines could not get out of their car to gas up their vehicle while wearing cammies. If they ran out of gas, they could exit their car to deal with that. Marines were advised to pay attention to the fuel status of their private vehicles, and to carry a set of civilian clothes, or a marine service uniform, in their vehicle, in case they had to get out. The only exception was for marines driving military vehicles for long distances. Marines could exit their vehicles to use the toilet, but this had be done as quickly as possible.

These rules form the heart of what the troops call "Mickey Mouse". That is, rules that serve no useful purpose other than to harass the troops and make military life less tolerable. Given the growing problem created by stress related injuries in the military, you would think the generals would seek ways to reduce the Mickey Mouse stuff and lower the stress levels.

In some cases, the brass do eventually reverse these morale damaging decisions. Usually it is done quietly and after the controversy dies down (especially on the Internet). But in some cases, the generals back down while the controversy is still hot. Such was the case recently when the issue of marines wearing "KIA (Killed in action) Bracelets" came up. Marines have been allowed to wear "MIA Bracelets" since the early 1970s, each containing the name of a marine listed as missing in action. The new regulation adds KIA to the existing MIA rules. There are few (actually only two) MIA these days, as American troops have a much better, and persistent, view of the battlefield. There are fewer KIA, but each one had friends who missed him, and the bracelets arose to help keep the memories alive.

All the services have regulations regarding "jewelry" you can wear when in uniform. But changes like the KIA bracelet have a way of sneaking in, and eventually getting really banned, or made official. The KIA bracelets appeared in that manner, first looking just like a legal MIA bracelet. But some commanders, who had to enforce these dress regulations, noted that the names on some bracelets were not of a Vietnam era MIA, but of a marine, sometimes one they also knew, or knew of. That put commanders and senior NCOs in a tough spot, and many just pretended the KIA bracelets were the legal MIA ones. When the senior brass caught wind of this, they decided to blink. The alternative was to have a lot of unhappy marines, which is not a good situation if you are their commander.




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