By no stretch of the imagination is it the worst idea ever to come out of Congress, but it will surely waste money and annoy some people it is unwise to annoy: United States Marines.

On June 13, 2013, a House committee approved a bill to require all branches of the U.S. armed forces to wear the same “combat” uniform. The amendment, approved as part of H.R. 1960, the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, would prohibit the services from adopting any new combat uniform unless it will be a joint uniform item shared by all of the services or unless the design is already in use by another service.

From here it just looks like another case of cammie envy, and once again it is the Marines who are the target.

The first use of standard camouflage uniforms by Americans may have been by the Marine Raiders of World War II, two battalions who wore them because they operated in Pacific jungles behind Japanese lines. The Raider units were disbanded because Marine leaders opposed having an elite within an elite. But the Corps respected their exploits and adopted some of their traditions.

After Vietnam camouflage field uniforms became standard.

Then the other services started to copy them, just as they copied the Smokey the Bear hats that Marine drill instructors wear. The ubiquitous use of camouflage began to rankle among Marines, who regarded these uniforms as something to wear in the field, not in an Air Force commissary or in a hospital corridor or on the subway. Who is the Metro passenger hiding from?

A few years ago Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway tried to get a handle on the overuse of camouflage uniforms by banning Marines from wearing them anywhere but on base.

And finally the Marines came up with a new camouflage uniform and invoked “intellectual property” protection for its digital design, ostensibly to keep it away from bad guys but probably also to differentiate themselves from their sister services. Those services, denied permission to copy Marines once again, were forced to come up with their own differing designs.

Silliest of all are the Navy’s camouflage uniforms, a blend of blues and grays guaranteed to render invisible anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the 70 percent of the Earth’s surface where the Navy traditionally operates. Blaze orange would seem to make more sense, although a friend suggests the blue-gray camouflage might hide the sailors from sharks.

The House measure was an overreaction to this mindless proliferation of camouflage. It was the brainchild of veterans, but they are Air Force and Army National Guard veterans. A Marine voted against it.

One hopes there are more of them out there who will give this measure the fate it deserves once they get wind of it. Former Marines (“There is no such thing as an ex-Marine”) can be a formidable lobby.

The Associated Press, for example, doesn’t capitalize Pope or President except in front of a proper name. But it capitalizes Marines even when referring to a single grunt.

Most other media follow the same practice. That led all the services into a capitalization trap. The initial problem was that Navy Medical Corpsmen serve as medics with the Marines (there is one on the Iwo Jima memorial). So a Navy Times story about them might refer to Marines and sailors.

Then somebody noticed the incongruity and started capitalizing Sailor.

Whoa, said the Army, which started capitalizing Soldier. Then we got Airman.

For a long time the only sensible position on capitalization was taken by The New York Times, which capitalized Marines when referring to the USMC but lower-cased individual marines (the generic term–Marines dislike being referred to generically as soldiers, or even as Soldiers).

Then even The New York Times capitulated and said the word Marines would always be capitalized.

The concession was celebrated on blogs and emails circulated among former Marines. As noted earlier, there is no such thing as an ex-Marine.

(c) 2013 J.V. Reistrup

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