British Soldiers Can’t Wear Uniforms in Public

British military personnel are unable to wear their uniforms off base because of persistent harassment.

British Soldiers Can Plans to urge soldiers, sailors and airmen to wear their uniforms in public were in disarray last night after RAF personnel were ordered to dress in civilian clothes while off-duty because of persistent threats and abuse. The uniform ban was imposed by the station commander at RAF Wittering, near Peterborough, after a number of servicemen and women walking in the city in their military clothes were targeted because of their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gordon Brown and Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, tried last night to overturn the ban. But the incidents in Peterborough threaten to undermine a new planned policy, favoured by the Prime Minister, that aims to draw the military and general public closer together.

The Prime Minister is to be presented this month with a report that will call for the widespread wearing of military uniforms to engender respect and appreciation for the Armed Forces. In the US service personnel wear their uniforms off-duty. This was banned in Britain in recent years because of the IRA terrorist threat.

Quentin Davies, a former Tory defence spokesman who defected to Labour, was asked by the Prime Minister to review ways of improving the public’s attitude and opinion of the Armed Forces. The Times understands that Mr Davies will recommend that all British military personnel should be encouraged to wear their uniforms in the street. The MP is known to be of the view that if other sections of society, such as firefighters, paramedics and police officers, can wear uniforms, members of the Armed Forces should also do so as a matter of course. Mr Davies is also expected to recommend that local authorities be persuaded to organise homecoming parades for any units based in their communities that have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other conflict zones.

Truly shocking. Granting that public opposition to the Iraq War was always much higher in the UK than the US, incidents of American soldiers being harassed have been rare; indeed, the response to soldiers in uniform, especially at airports when they may be coming or going from a combat zone, is overwhelmingly positive.

As an aside, it was the policy of the U.S. Army until relatively recently that soldiers wear Class A uniforms when out in public; they were permitted to wear fatigue uniforms only for pit stops to and from work, such as getting gas or stopping off at a convenience store. Now, it’s fatigue uniforms (BDU or, more recently, the ACU) almost all the time. I’m not sure that’s such a good change.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    A couple of months ago, I was at the DMV for the renewal of my driver’s license. There was about a dozen people patiently waiting their turn. The DMV employees were doing their best to go as slowly as possible while appearing to be busy. Just another typical visit to the DMV.

    After I had been there about half an hour, a US Army officer came in, dressed in his formal dress uniform. I didn’t catch his rank but I think he was a sergeant. Like all others who entered the building, he took a number and sat down to wait his turn which, at the rate things were going, was going to be a couple of hours.

    I was just about to approach him, thank him for his service, and exchange my number for his (I was in the middle of the pack by then) when a woman beat me to it. She was next in line but immediately went over to the officer and quietly exchanged numbers with him. He thanked her and was out of there in a few minutes.

    It was a simple gesture without a lot of fanfare but it made me real proud to be an American.