Navy Not Understanding Women

Uniform changes are always hard for the military personnel.  It was something we wore every day, so a little change could be a big impact.  We got the black beret at tail end of my time in service.  The thing was awful.  The previous hat was cotton and could be tossed in the wash when it got sweaty from work; the new one had to be dry cleaned.  The new one also cost $40–do you know how easy it is to lose a hat?

This particular change the Navy did was bizarre.  They wanted the all the sailors to look alike, so they declared everyone would have one uniform–with the default being the male uniform.

Which means with some women, they will have to be several sizes up and do some major alternations.  And the Navy has a lot of different uniforms–they have the white one we’re used to seeing and its winter black companion; the camo uniform; the work uniform–all with different hats as well.

Not all women have the same shape, so some alterations are always necessary, even with regular clothes.  But changing clothing made for a man’s body to fit for a woman’s body–that’s at least one, maybe two major alterations–on four different uniforms, each with multiple sets.

I spent $25 to have darts put on a shirt so it would fit me better.  That was a minor alteration.  Even though the enlisted get a stipend (Army was clothing allowance), I wouldn’t be surprised if it only covered the cost of buying the uniforms, not on alterations.

It also amazes me that the men are complaining that the women are being treated as special for asking for clothes that fit and don’t require extensive alterations.

A soldier and her Kevlar helmet

When I was in the Army, I wore a helmet that was made of Kelvar.  We called it a Kevlar, rather than a helmet.  Like any piece of a soldier’s uniform, it took on a second life, and there were some tall tales …

Rumors were sometimes passed down the convey lines during Desert Storm.  One of the soldiers was said to come from a convoy, removed his Kevlar and discovered a bullet hole in it.  Doubtful if it was true—if it was hard enough to lodge in the Kevlar, he would have felt the impact.

Another story that circulated—much to the chagrin of the woman soldier who was in my unit—was that she had mixed up her Kevlar with a four star general’s, so she was wearing his.  It was not true.  Trust me, she would have noticed.  Just soldier boredom.

But an interesting fact is that the material used for our Kevlar helmets, and in the flak vests was invented by a woman, Stephanie Kwolek.

Navy discontinues its blueberry uniforms

Uniforms are an important part of life for both soldiers and the military.  For the soldiers, it’s what they wear, every day that they report to duty.  For the military, and especially the higher ups, it’s a way to make their mark on the service, and a very visible one, before they retire.

And usually, it’s not for the better.

Navy Discontinues Navy Working Uniform Type I Uniform

Last week, the Navy announced that they would be discontinuing their blue camouflage uniforms, nicknamed “blueberries.”

Trust soldiers to come up with an insulting nickname.

The uniform popped up when all the services were trying to show they were unique by coming up with their own camouflage (blame the Marines.  They started it).  But if you served on a ship, what good would camouflage do?

Needless to say, the uniform wasn’t much liked.  The Army also changed its uniform not too long ago.

The Army excursion into uniform change: the beret

I was still in the Army when the much hated berets were introduced.  It was a hat that never made sense.  The one we originally wore was like a square off ball cap with a brim.  Perfect for doing details and grubby work.  It wasn’t very expensive, and it could be thrown in the wash when the brim got all sweaty.   Also could be folded up and stuck in a pocket.

But beret?

It was wool and had this leather band around the bottom.  Cost a lot for a hat.  Had to be dry cleaned.  Really?  Let’s see, I went to the field and it rained for the entire week.  Then there was Desert Storm where the sweat didn’t just transfer to the hat; it imprinted.  A fussy beret would not have worked.

Somehow, no one thought about anything beyond what it looked like.

How do military personal get the new uniforms?

The military does not make the soldiers rush out and buy the new uniforms, which would be quite a hardship.  There’s a fairly long period where the old uniforms can wear out and be replaced by the new styles.

An interesting bit of trivia:  Despite being in the military for so many years, I cannot spell camouflage!  I had it three times above, and not one was spelled correctly.  It’s a very confusing word!

Daily Life in the Military: Other Activities

Sick Call

Of course maybe somewhere along the week I’ve gotten sick or turned my ankle. For the normal person, you would probably call in sick, and your boss would say that was okay.

For the military, it was quite a different, and often frustrating process.

Because you couldn’t just be an adult and call in sick. Someone had to give you orders saying you could stay out of work, or not run for a week.

Sick Call started at 6:00 am and went to 9:00 for enlisted. Before the first formation of the morning, I’d have to go down and get a sick call form from the duty soldier (called “CQ,” which stood for charge of quarters. He manned the phones). The form required me to put down what was wrong, my name, social security number, and company.

I’d fall in for formation, and then once the PT started, I would depart for sick call at a troop medical clinic, known as a TMC. Once there, I’d sign in, and do the usual waiting room (though no magazines).

Eventually a corpsman, who was a lower enlisted, would see me. He had this binder on the table in front of him, and it was kind of a flow chart. Like if you got a bunch of no’s, he’d give you a cold pack and send you back to duty.

If it was enough to see a physician’s assistant, it was back to more waiting. Eventually, I’d get in to see him. If he thought I was sick or hurt enough, he’d given me “quarters,” which was medical orders saying that you could stay in bed and be sick.

If I needed to see another type of doctor, I had to get a referral from the PA. For example, if I’d known my feet were flat then, I would have had to go to sick call and request a referral for a podiatrist. If the PA agreed and gave me one, then I could go to the podiatrist; if he didn’t, then that was it.

The referrals were even worse and just as frustrating. I’d call for an appointment, and the earliest appointment was six weeks out. If I had an injury, by the time I got to the appointment, sometimes it had improved and the specialist thought I was faking it.

If it hadn’t gotten better, the specialist would refer me for tests that were surprisingly high tech. The tests wouldn’t show anything, so the doctor would give me referrals for two other different types of doctors. So that was another six weeks each, usually ending with no result.

The problem would still be there, so when it flared back up, it was back to Sick Call to repeat the entire process, right down to the same specialists who would refer me to the same high tech tests and then tell me they couldn’t do anything.

My podiatrist treats a lot of veterans, so he was quizzing on all this. His comment was that it seemed like the military just sent you round and round until you gave up. Yup, that was about right. The Army did not deal well with anything beyond a common cold.

Uniform cleaning

One of the services we were offered was to send out uniforms to a military laundry facility for cleaning and starching. All the sergeants liked the uniforms with a sharp crease, and frankly, I didn’t want to spend my evenings ironing.

The Army would do a payroll deduction each month for the service. I’d stuff everything in a laundry bag with a laundry slip, and drop it off.

The only problem with it was that the uniforms often came back with broken buttons. They would get pressed so hard, the buttons would break. I’d also get wear marks around the buttons. Over time, the circle of the buttons would appear on the uniform, and eventually it would break through. That wasn’t an instant replace on the uniform, because sometimes we needed worn uniforms for the work we did.

The service was discontinued after a while, so it was off to the dry cleaners. Heavy starch. When I got my uniforms back, I could stand them up. I had to break the pants to get into them!

Bedding Turn in

Supply issued us our sheets and pillow cases for our beds in the barracks. Once a week, we would strip our twin beds and fold the sheets up on top of the blankets on the end. The stripping of the bed was to let the mattress air out. While I was at work, one of the supply folks would come around and gather the dirty sheets up and replace it with a set of clean ones.

If you think this sounds great, having someone take care of cleaning the sheets, well … maybe not. They consisted of two well-used flat sheets that only departed life when they got torn. Some of the sheets had stains that we were probably better off not questioning.

GI Parties

Despite the name, this wasn’t anything fun. Sometimes the first sergeant would go through the barracks and not be happy at how they looked. So we’d go to the last formation of the day and be told that we had a GI Party.

That meant clean the barracks until first sergeant was happy. Sometimes that was hours, pretty much cleaning the same spots we’d cleaned that morning, or getting down on our hands and knees, stripping the wax off the floor.

The platoon sergeants would come in at some point, inspect the barracks, say it was fine, and we were done.

Men on the Floor

Men could come into the female area during the day, or later in the evening. However, they had to announce themselves before they entered so if anyone was like on the way to the shower, they could get out of sight.

The typical phrase was “Man on the floor!”

Though some of the guys were like, “Man! On the floor!”

Daily Life in the Military: Morning Cleanup

After breakfast, we returned to the barracks to shower and change for the workday. For the female soldiers, we had our own section of the building, and later, after we moved, our own building. During the time after PT, men were not allowed in the barracks at all. It was kind of an unspoken rule, because all the women were getting changed. It wasn’t like we had private bathrooms in our rooms; women were going down to the showers in various states of undress.

We did have one time where one of the male sergeants tried to get in. He was up to no good, and I happened to be the one who stopped him outside and told him, “You know you’re not supposed to be here now.”  He slunk off, and I reported it to my squad leader.

It was a lot of bustling of activity during that 90 minutes. When we had our own barracks, it was something like twenty women sharing three showers, sinks, and toilets. No privacy – the shower was an open bay with three showerheads and an older style floor that always smelled like mildew. We had to wear flip flips – we called them shower shoes – because the floor would give us athlete’s foot.

After showers, it was off to get dressed. The uniform was typically the BDU—Battle Dress Uniforms. That’s the older style green camouflage ones, called woodland camouflage. The uniform was a set standard for the time of the year, so we couldn’t change it up any like wear a field jacket because it was chilly that day. We could change up the boots a little and instead of wearing issue boots, wearing jump boots (wide toe and very stiff sole) or jungle boots (green canvas sides). We could also use a polyester/wool blend sock instead of the issued wool sock (very scratchy), green, of course. Everything else was standard, though.

The hair for the women then was always a challenge. Then we just had to keep our hair off the collar with a rubber band or barrette that was similar to our hair color. I have really thick hair, so it was always hard to put up my hair. Initially, I tried cutting it short, but that’s surprisingly high maintenance. I had to be really on-time getting it cut, and there was a point where if it got just long enough, I was in violation of the regulations but it was also too short to put up.

What I ended up doing was put it in a pony tail or a French braid. Then I folded it up, then folded it down and put a barrette on it. That wasn’t the far off from what the other women were doing. My roommate had hair down to her butt, and she braided it and folded it up, too.

There were women there who would use every minute of that 90 minutes to get dressed and do their hair. I was like ten minutes, and then I could chill out for a while before doing any clean up.

Cleaning had to be done every morning. Two areas needed cleaning: The bathroom and the hallway. One of the women made up a rotating schedule, so everyone got it every few weeks. One of the women typically volunteered to come up with a roster of assignments for the week, so we could go two weeks without cleaning the common areas, the bathroom and the hallway. We still had to do our rooms as well, though.

The hallway consisted of stripping down the floor (usually on the weekend), and then waxing it. After that, sweeping with a mustache broom and then a quick buff. Sometimes we had to go chasing after the buffer – the guys would sneak in and steal it.   The buffer was quite heavy, had bike handles, and was like a bucking bronco – tough to control.

The bathroom was cleaning the floors, cleaning the showers, dumping pine oil in the toilets, cleaning the sinks. If I did it, I dumped bleach on that floor so it smelled clean.

Then we had to clean up our individual rooms. Sometimes that was buffing the floor, but it was also sweeping up, cleaning out the seal on the refrigerator, making the bed, etc. I was never very good at cleaning. The Army wanted us to learn attention to detail by cleaning, but I was terrible with details. Where the first sergeant would bark about cleaning the cracks in the seal on the fridge and expect us to pick up details like that, I simply added “crack in seal” to my mental blackboard of things the first sergeant wanted me to look for. For me, it never translated into how to look for other details like that.

About once every week or two, the first sergeant would make random inspections during the day, checking for cleanliness, so the rooms always had to be pristine.  When I got out of the Army, I practically exploded with junkiness! Staying that obsessively neat was too much for right-brained creative me!

At 15 minutes to 9:00, it was off for another formation.

Daily Life in the Military: Physical Training

I picked up a book on what it’s like to be a sous chef, so I thought it would be interesting to follow through the “Daily Life in the Military.” Of course, this was a number of years ago, so some things may have changed and others may not have.

Mondays, we’d start the day with physical training, called PT, since the Army likes its acronyms. Normally we did it Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though later, the post commander decided everyone was going to do it five days a week.

Formation for PT was at 6:30. A few hardy souls would get up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready, banging doors and flushing toilets. The rest of us dragged our zombie selves out of bed and changed into PT uniforms.

The full uniform was gray sweat pants, gray, sweat jacket, gray t-shirt, gray shorts, black watch cap, calf high socks, leather gloves, and running shoes. During winter, we wore all of that, and some of the women who hadn’t styled their hair yet would hide it under the watch cap. During spring and summer, we went down to shorts and t-shirts.

It also didn’t matter if it was too cold, too hot, raining or snowing. We went out and did PT, no matter the weather conditions.

We’d get out to formation ten minutes prior and line up in our platoons. Most of us were still half asleep, so the designated PT instructor that day (usually one of the sergeants) would start out with some stretching and then warmup exercises.

The stretches were your basic ones like bending over and touching your toes or

The warmup exercises were the horrid things. We always had pushups and sit-ups. The guys could always knock out the pushups, but grunted, groaned, and strained for the sit-ups. The ones I hated were the side straddle hop and the flutter kick. The side straddle hop is a jumping jack, and it was always very hard for me to do, probably because of my flat feet. The guys were always making fun of me. The flutter kick was just plain hard. This is what it looks like (shirtless guy alert):

No fair! He makes it look easy!

It would take about half an hour to finish that part of PT. The last half hour was the run. We always did it in a formation, which was supposed to encourage to slow runners to run faster to keep up. Amy logic. That never worked.

We ran on the streets of Fort Lewis, as cars drove past us.   When I was on main post, we would run through the housing areas, where it was kind of nice, and definitely quiet. If it was hot out and the person leading the formation spotted a sprinkler, we took a trip through it.

But someone would always get the idea to go up to Engineer’s Bluff, which was a steep hill and a killer to run up it.

With my flat feet, I was such a clumsy runner that I probably took at least three times the effort to run and came back exhausted. Once we stumbled back to the company, all sweaty and hot, it was off to the next scheduled event of the day: Breakfast.

Measuring, Military Style

One of the things about the Army is the we always had to improvise, and being able to do that was an essential part of how the Army functioned.  A soldier might be out in the middle of nowhere without any of the proper supplies. What happens if the soldiers needs something to accomplish the mission?

Ergo, a very simple measuring tool that every soldier had in their pocket: The quarter.

We used it to put rank on a battle dress uniform (the BDU) collar. The rank then consisted of two each, with two pins on the back that fastened using a pin closure. I always hated the closures because they were hard to get on and easy to loose.

Some pictures of the rank here: The black ones at the bottom where known as the “subdued rank” and were used on our battle dress uniforms (the camouflage uniforms you see on old TV shows). The basic idea is that you don’t advertise your rank on the battlefield with something shiny that can be seen by a sniper.

The polished ranks in gold and silver were worn on the dress uniforms. Contrary to what might appear obvious, silver is the higher ranked.

To put the rank on the uniform:

  1. Line the quarter up to the point on the color.
  2. Pin the rank above the quarter and try not to stab myself with the two pins.

I always knew the quarter is being one inch because of this (the rank goes one inch from the point), but it’s actually a little under an inch.

Desert Storm: Packing Even More Equipment!

I was at Barnes and Noble and saw the “U.S. Army Survival Kit” they were selling. It was a box, about the size of two hardback books laid side by side. Had a blanket and and few other things in. I was kind of scratching my head it because none of seemed particularly hardy enough for what the military really has.

In additional the uniforms we would be taking, we also had a long list of individual equipment for each soldier:

  • Two blankets: These were green wool blankets, like the ones you see on M*A*S*H. Since cots were twin sized, they were twin-sized blankets. Very scratchy.
  • Sleeping bag: This was green also and looked like a caterpillar. Not like those nice rectangular ones you get at the camping stores that are more like folding a blanket in half.
  • Rain poncho: A woodland camouflage piece of plastic with a hood. It wasn’t really much protection against the weather if it was raining harder than a sprinkler.
  • Poncho Liner: Any soldier will tell you this was the most useful tool around. It was not standard issue; purchasing it came out of our own pockets, and we all bought one. It was a quilted rectangle of cloth that could be fastened to the rain poncho to create an impromptu sleeping bag. It could be also used in addition to the blankets, or to sit on, or hang up like a wall.
  • Rain jacket and pants: This was a heavy duty rain covering, rather like the yellow ones you see in rescue movies, only ours was green and stank of plastic.
  • Galoshes: These were your basic galoshes that you pulled over your own shoes and hoped you could get off when you feet sweated too much.
  • Chemical boots: Or my nickname, fish boots. They were black plastic and had this weird part on the bottom that you had to pull up and tie around your ankle with
  • Chemical clothing: A jacket and pants. We actually brought the training version (don’t ask; it’s army logic) and the real thing, which was sealed in a package. It was heavily quilted, so quite warm when we put it on over the uniform. After we got to Saudi Arabia, we received a notification that one entire lot of them was defective. The recommendation was to wear the rain jacket and pants over the top. Comforting.
  • Entrenching Tool: Army speak for a collapsible shovel.
  • Shelter half and tent stakes: The shelter half was a cotton half of a two person tent. The only place I ever used one was in Basic Training. It was just extra weight to lug around though it did make a great wall to accompany the poncho liner.
  • Duffel bags: Each soldier was given two of these as part of normal issue.
  • Ruck sack: Army speak for a backpack, but nothing as fancy as the ones you see hikers carry. It came with a frame to put the weight on your hips.
  • Footlocker: For the war, we were issued one footlocker. Pretty much like the ones on M*A*S*H, though dark brown. The footlocker was the only packing tool where we could use it for whatever we wanted.

Hardly a box the size of two hard backed books! From what I read, for the later wars, the soldiers carried even more weight. We would get cots when we got there, but those were part of the company’s inventory, rather than the soldier’s equipment.

Off next to packing all this stuff!

Desert Storm: A Soldier’s Daily Wear

According to USA Today back in 1990, the average soldier deploying to Desert Shield would be carrying a total of 83 pounds. We were probably a little under that, since they listed the soldiers as carrying bayonets. We definitely didn’t have anything like that! Here’s a list of what we would be wearing in Desert Storm on a daily basis:

Uniform: The army uniform was made out of heavy duty cotton and practicality was designed in. Instead of a zipper for the fly, we had buttons. A button is a lot easier to replace than a broken zipper. The pants also had huge cargo pockets, large enough to store a meal pouch or a 2 liter bottle of water — both things we would have to do during Desert Storm.

On the jacket/blouse, the sleeves were designed to be rolled up and rolled down. We normally wore the sleeves down in fall and winter and up in spring and summer. In Desert Storm, the male soldiers wore the sleeves up and the female soldiers wore them down. That was because of Saudi nomads. In some respects, it may have been a good thing for the women since we ended up being exposed to less sun than the men.

On the pants, we tucked those into boots. You could get either blousing rubbers (a piece of stretchable string with two hooks) or a blousing strap (much wider, with velcro) to get the bloused effect. Sometimes I liked the blousing rubbers, but they also left marks in my skin. The blousing strap was more comfortable in some respects and not in others. It was too wide, probably made for someone taller.

Hat: Better known as cover. We had ball caps on the green side, and floppy brimmed boonie hats on the brown side.

T-Shirt: We always wore a brown t-shirt under our uniform jacket/blouse. It was cotton, and a lot of times it would get stretched out or the color would leach out.

Boots: We started out with the basic issue of leather boots. I remember the first time I was issued boots during Basic Training. I stood in line at the clothing issue facility, and the woman behind the counter looked at my feet and gave a pair without me trying anything on. Up until (and long afterward), I’d spent most of my life trying to get any shoes that feet. I had extra wide feet. I was amazed that they fit perfectly with room for my toes!

Prior to Desert Storm, I did purchase on my own the jungle boots. These were supposed to have originated during the Vietnam War, and they had basic leather for the for the shoe part of the boot. The part that covered my leg was green canvas. Later during Desert Storm, the soldiers would ask for these boots, though without the vent holes in it, since sand apparently got into them. I never experienced that.

Socks: The army issue was a basic green — no changes for the desert uniform. The socks were a cheap wool and very scratchy. I brought a softer wool and cotton blend. At the time, we were allowed to make substitutions of some things like socks and boots.

Kevlar with cover: That’s actually the helmet you see all the soldiers wearing. We don’t call it a helmet because the army never calls anything by it’s logical name. Kevlar is the material it was made out of. It came coverless, so we would have to put on a cloth cover that matched our uniform. Ever try putting on plastic bag over something round? Yup, it was a challenge to get on.

It also had an elastic band that fitted around the base — not to hold the cover on the helmet, but as another bit of army practicality. If you were camouflaging yourself, you could stick twigs and leaves in the band. The band was also great for storing paperwork, like your firing range qualification.

Sometimes it was known as the brain bucket.

Body armor: This was far different than the ones you see in the news today. Picture a piece of cardboard with arm holes and you’ve pretty much got the flak vest we wore. It was fitted for men (again!), so way too big on me. When I sat down, the flak vest collar pushed up the back of my helmet. It came in original woodland camouflage, so the army issued a desert camo cover — just like the helmet cover. It had velcro and straps all over and I could turn it this way and that way and could never quite figure out how to get it on.

Suspenders and ammunition belt: Our ammunition pouches, and more importantly, canteens would be mounted to this. The belts were made for men, though. I had the belt on the last notch, and it was still too big. The suspenders were clearly made for a much taller man, so the back of them was always getting twisted all over the place on me.

What we didn’t have: The goggles that you see in pictures of today’s soldiers. The army may have issued some during Desert Shield, but it would have been to the Rangers or Special Forces. The rest of us didn’t rate.

If it sounds like a lot of stuff, it was!

Military legal gets involved on the ALS ice bucket challenge

Over the last few weeks, celebrities like William Shatner and Brent Spiner have taken the ALS Ice Bucket challenge — essentially dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads on video tweeted or Face Booked out to help draw attention to the disease that killed baseball player Lou Gehrig.

The lawyers for the military weighed in and said that personnel couldn’t do it in uniform because it constituted endorsement for the cause.  You know, that’s a shame.  This could have been a great way to see military in a positive way.  Most often, all we hear about is front page news about problems with failures in the Veteran’s Administration; homeless veterans; long lasting brain injuries; and sexual harassment.  One of the reasons I generally don’t talk much about any of those subjects is because it’s too easy to associate soldiers as only those things, instead of as diverse people.  Some soldiers have reported that it’s been hard getting a job because employers assume they will have a meltdown like the ones reported in the press.

Good publicity would make a dent in that.