New Naval Uniforms, you’re going to love them!

Could these be new uniforms? Probably not. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change.  I’m not sure who said this, but he was probably involved in naval uniform development.  The modern Navy has over a dozen uniforms currently in use with numerous modifications in the works.

All these new uniforms and modifications started with Task Force Uniform (TFU), the first task force created by the U.S. Navy for the war on terror.   You might think it’s odd that in the middle of the largest military operation since the Vietnam War the Navy created a task force to design uniforms.  Well nobody asked you, and it’s a good thing too.  Don’t you know that the most important aspect to any tactical operation is a well-dressed navy?  This is not to say that the US Navy is better dressed as a result of TFU.

For years the Navy has struggled to develop durable uniforms with a traditional look that also serve a practical purpose.  The result has been uniforms lacking a traditional look and at the same time serve no practical purpose, and durable enough to survive up to two washings before falling apart.

The best example was the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) Type I.  Not only was this a blue camouflage uniform providing camouflage only after falling into the ocean (literally the only time a shipboard sailor wants to be easily found) but also was likely to melt to your body if the ambient temperature was higher than the average cup of coffee.

Seabees wearing NWU Type III (left) and Type I (right).  U.S. Navy photograph by LS2 Darlene Kemble/Released. (Source Wikimedia Commons)

The NWU Type I was a failure.  Fortunately the Navy learned from it and issued the NWU Type III (the story of the Type II design is so ridiculous you wouldn’t believe it if I told you).  The Type IIIs are a real camouflage uniform, designed for the rigors of combat (as can be seen by the addition of Velcro).  The green woodland design is ideal for concealment in any forest (although I will admit there are very few of these on most warships).

This is a uniform so camouflaged that even your rank was hidden.  The rank insignia is worn inside the back pocket.  I’m just kidding, it’s worn in the center of the blouse (right behind any package you might be carrying).  This has resulted in comical situations as  sailors, passing on the street, study each other carefully (with sideways glances) to figure out if a salute is required.  It’s the Navy version of Where’s Waldo?

Now that I’m retired from the Navy, and would like to continue to eat, I’ve been wondering if the Navy’s uniform office is hiring.  Given the products recently introduced, there can’t be a very high bar to clear.  I’ve even started working on a couple new ideas, which we will now explore.

Working Uniforms

Working uniforms have been a huge challenge.  A uniform which is practical and sharp is ideal but merging both of these can be difficult.  Above all it has to provide for the safety of the wearer.  No more working uniforms that melt, from now on they will be made of leather (as we all know leather never goes out of style).

The new naval working uniform (NNWU) will also be camouflage, because in the modern Navy, for some reason, it is essential that we be camouflaged at all times.  The pattern will have to change though.  Digital camouflage is so 2005.  Now in the 20’s we need something new and edgy.  The new working uniform will utilize 3D patterns.  We could then sell 3D glasses to the enemy at a reasonable price.

Disciplinary Uniforms

If there is one group of sailors that have been left out of all the uniform developments, it’s the trouble makers.  With this uniform that is a thing of the past.  I present to you the Penitential Uniform (PU).  The PU would be made of blue burlap to provide a perpetual reminder to the wearer of their offence.  The PU would be issued following captain’s mast or court martial and worn for the duration of restricted duty or brig confinement.  Instead of ribbons or warfare devices the right breast pocket would be decorated with symbols of the offences.

Physical Training Uniforms

Physical training uniforms have been a difficult area since they were first introduced in 2006.  Durability, comfort, freedom of movement, and material that breathes are all areas that should be included in such a uniform.  We know this because these are the areas that were not included when developing the current uniform.  Which brings us to the new, improved, and highly modern PT Uniform version X (PTU-X).  The PTU-X will be made completely out of body paint.  Talk about freedom of movement and breathability.  What is more durable than the human skin?  Any wear or damage and the skin will heal and then can be touched up with official PTU-X touch up paint carried in the official PTU-X fanny pack adorned with a digital blue and gold pattern.

This is, of course, just the beginning.  I have a lot more ideas but I’m not giving those away for free.  I’ll save those for when the uniform office hires me (or until I need another idea for an article).

The challenges of the future are coming and we need new uniforms to meet those challenges.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is no such thing as a bad idea when it comes to uniforms.  The Navy will buy anything.

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Uniformity is Key

1280px-Navy_Working_Uniform

I’m a simple kind of guy. I don’t want much out of life.  I want the same thing any red-blooded American wants: freedom, health, love, and to retire without buying any more new uniforms.  And to be perfectly honest I’m willing to do without freedom, health and love, because lately the Navy has been cranking out new uniforms faster than Captain’s Mast after a 3M inspection.  I have already reached a point where, thanks to my uniforms, I have more clothes than my wife.

I’m not talking about replacing an old worn-out uniform. I can live with that.  What I don’t want is to purchase, yet again, the latest incarnation developed by the Navy’s uniform board wizards after another visit from the “good idea fairy” and their 7th margarita.  In my career I have owned six different working uniforms, each one a little more ridiculous than the one before.

You see, in the Navy, we have a lot of uniforms.  This is something that civilians have a hard time understanding (another thing is duty days).  In the civilian world there are uniforms too, but they generally help customers identify employees.  In the Navy we have uniforms for formal occasions, for really formal occasions, for office work, for shipboard work, for dirty shipboard work, and for really dirty shipboard work.  We even have uniforms for really fancy dinners that we might never attend.  For a civilian to understand the complexities of U.S. Naval uniforms is an exercise in futility.

When I first joined the Navy (back when Noah was commissioning the ark) the standard working uniform was called dungarees. It consisted of a light blue chambray shirt (I’m not really sure what “chambray” is) and blue denim pants.  Basically they were blue jeans, but not regular blue jeans you can buy at Walmart.  These jeans were bell-bottoms with rectangular pockets sewn on the front (just like the ones on the back), so that at first glance it appeared that you had put your pants on backwards.

The upside of dungarees is that they were very comfortable. The downside was that, more or less, this was essentially the same uniform worn in a federal prison (though, to be fair, there were times when this seemed appropriate).  We weren’t even allowed to leave base in this uniform—probably out of fear that the police would try to return us to prison.

Dungarees were the enlisted working uniform dating back to well before World War II, so in 1999 it was time for a change. For years enlisted sailors had been asking for a working uniform that looked professional, like a military uniform instead of inmate attire.  After listening to the sailors and carefully weighing the operational and morale benefits the Navy finally settled on a uniform that did neither: the utilities.  Utilities were the same color scheme as dungarees (light blue shirt and dark blue pants).  The downside of the utilities was that they were less comfortable than dungarees.  On the upside we no longer resembled convicts… now we looked like gas station attendants.  It’s like we finally got out of prison only to be hired by a gas station.

The utilities were universally despised by the fleet which should have guaranteed their survival for years, but change was in the air in the early 2000s. The war on terror was in full force, money was flowing into the Defense Department and the Navy was modernizing equipment and moving away from the old ways of doing things.  It was a crazy time.

Since the Navy was pretty much throwing money around like a drunken sailor on a port visit in Thailand, they created Task Force Uniform to address the uniform issue. That’s right, in the middle of the biggest war since Vietnam, they actually created a task force to figure out what to wear.

Task Force Uniform got right to work and discovered that if they revised all the Navy uniforms instead of just one, they’d probably be able to avoid any real work for the rest of their careers (this is still going on today). After reviewing the seabag requirements it was determined that there were way too many uniforms for the average sailor to maintain (which is kind of like a scientist announcing that they discovered that cancer is bad).  After this watershed moment TFU (this is an actual Navy acronym) chose to add more uniforms.  Seriously.  To minimize uniforms they developed the physical fitness uniform, the service dress khakis, the Navy service uniform and three kinds of camouflage uniforms.

The biggest development to come out of all this was the new Navy working uniform (NWU). No longer would sailors of the world’s most powerful navy look like gas station attendants.  No longer would U.S. Navy sailors resemble escaped prisoners.  We were a country at war and our sailors would look like the warriors they were… well almost, because after all the debate, all the research, all the money spent what TFU decided we needed was: blue camouflage.

I guess it makes sense when you think about it. The standard attire for combat troops these days is camouflage, and the Navy’s main service color is blue.  It never seemed to cross anyone’s mind that the only environment in which this uniform would provide camouflage was in the ocean, and that most sailors floating in the ocean would probably want to be found.

Someone once explained to me that the camouflage pattern actually worked well on a ship. “If you look at a ship from 1000 yards you can’t even make out the NWUs; they blend in perfectly.”  This still seemed odd to me.  I mean even if it does hide the sailors on the ship, it’s not like anyone would assume that the ship had just sailed there by itself.

Nevertheless the fleet embraced NWUs, probably because we were allowed wear it off-base and could finally stop at the store on the way home from work. Soon the NWUs could be seen everywhere, it was the standard working uniform for officer and enlisted throughout the entire Navy.  It just goes to show that when our government gets down to business, identifies a problem, conducts the proper research, and implements a plan for correction, it can really develop something truly practical like the uniform that will take our Navy into the new millennium.

It was right about then we found out that the NWUs spontaneously burst into flames and were not safe to wear onboard ship. Oh well, every new development is bound to have a few bugs, right?