Monday, November 17, 2008

Open letter to the CNO

Admiral Roughead,

It is often said that when the real important things get too hard, we distract ourselves with uniform fights - so, no time better than the present.

Often the simplest questions receive the most complicated answers. When we find ourselves on the receiving end of such answers, it is often best if we go back to the beginning and make sure that the question asked years ago match up with the answer given. Overly complicated answers are usually the result of an inability to understand the problem well enough - and not having the right leadership on a team to drive to a solution.

Task Force Uniform on balance has been a success. Though in deference to the Chief's Mess and well established tradition, I would have preferred that E1-E6 have the battleship gray shirt instead of the khaki one - but I am willing to accept that perhaps that was the best decision. I think the ongoing discussion on SDK is fine as well. I think the "Cracker Jack" improvements are fine. Progress is good.

There is one area however where I firmly believe that not only have we not answered the question - the answer provided creates more problems than it was supposed to solve. We have utterly failed to reduce the seabag portion presently taken up by the "camo" part of our wardrobe.

It is not too late. We have time. We can still admit that the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) is the wrong answer. Simply put; it fails in the following fundamental areas.
- It does not decrease the seabag. As designed, it is just for shipboard and MA use, along with a few other areas yet to be defined. It is not suitable for any land-based tactical use what-so-ever. We are still required to have the increasingly difficult to support BDU and DCU that the Marines, Army, and Air Force have already abandoned - which we are required to still have.
- It costs your Navy and your Sailors time and money. In addition to thousands of Sailors needing to have BDU and DCU ready to go, the new uniform will require a third set of camo uniforms to support (and you should have 2-3 copies of each). If you find yourself in cold weather (jackets are expensive, especially when you have to buy 3) - the cost to be ready to answer the call from Bahrain to Korea and back is excessive and exorbitant. Right now worldwide - it is exceptionally difficult to get everything from nametags to rank insignia for BDU and especially DCU as most places we find ourselves serve the Army, USAF and sometimes USMC - though Marines seem to take care of themselves just fine. It used to be that you could get what you needed regardless of whose uniform shop you were at - not anymore. The Navy's proposal will add another layer of inefficiency to an already inadequate NATEX/AAFES support structure.
- It is dangerous. Do we really need to discuss the foolishness of the NWU in a Damage Control, low light, or man overboard situation?

That is just the top 3; you are a busy man, so I will do my best not to ramble and get to what I owe you - solutions.

We should adopt wholesale the Army's ACU. Thousands of Sailors are wearing them right now in theater - mostly because the Navy does not support BDU and DCU for the majority of its deployed Sailors - and it will get worse as legacy stocks of BDU and DCU items via commercial sources dry up. We don't need our own camouflage uniform - the "US NAVY" on the left side of my chest will do. Like the Army, we can put our warfare pins on if needed. We can even keep the 8-pointed cover. The velcro on the shoulders will no only hold American Flags (color, gray, IR, etc) - better yet have enough room left on both shoulders for high reflective patches/flags/etc if needed - heck you can even put a unit, ship, or squadron patch on it like the Army does if you allowed it - highly reflective again for shipboard use if needed. In a DC environment, low light, and other situations where you need to be seen (why fire fighting uniforms have them) - the importance of such reflective items cannot be exaggerated; they make the difference between life and death. When you need to go "tactical" - you just rip them off. Easy.

With one uniform, we replace what would have been three. The Navy and its Sailors will save money and have more choices through economy of scale with the Army. Supply would be much easier worldwide. The Army has already figured out the "first in class" problems all uniforms have, so we avoid much of that mess. From an accessories point of view, industry is already producing innumerable additional items in that pattern. Our Sailors will be at full speed from day one.

The grey pattern will also hide paint splatter (the lamest reason given for the new Navy uniform I have heard) just as well - if not better.

One more point from a Gen. X officer who has spent the majority of his deployed time on/in and within a few days steaming of the Arabian peninsular - it will be a lot more comfortable in the direct sunlight of the equatorial and temperate summer. The light colored t-shirt will be much better - and will look better after a few months through ship's laundry - than the dark t-shirt proposed for the Navy's camo.

The more you think about it, the more sense it makes. All we need to do is not to make this a pride issue. Thousands of Sailors have no pride problems wearing the ACU while deployed in harm's way right now - we should follow their example. The only pride issue we should have is which side to put the flag on.

As a bonus, with the budget problems we both know are coming down the road - this will be a tremendous cost savings for the Navy over the next decade and beyond .... and from the E-3's perspective, his seabag just became lighter, easier to support, and more affordable.

Very respectfully,
Phibian Salamander

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