Navy Testing New Khaki Uniforms for Sea Duty

One of the oddities of military culture is the constan

One of the oddities of military culture is the constant tinkering with the uniform. The Army has come under heavy fire for multiple changes to both its camouflage and service uniform since the commencement of the fight in Afghanistan–and appears set to reintroduce a variant of the World War II era “pinks and greens.” Not to be outdone, the Navy, which eliminated the vast majority of the uniforms in its sea bag a few years ago in favor of truly hideous ones like the much-ridiculed “blueberry” camouflage, is at it again.

Military Times (“Khakis at sea? The Navy’s plan for a new operational uniform“):

The Navy is developing a new two-piece, command-issued uniform that could bring khakis back to sea for the first time in years.

Hundreds of sailors will be participating in the initial round of wear tests for the uniform that Navy officials are calling the “Maritime Two-Piece Fire-Retardant Variant.”

The new uniforms could eventually replace the Navy’s coveralls as an operational uniform, both on ship and at shore-based operational commands for some, but not all sailors.

The set of getups will include a khaki variant for chiefs and officers.

For sailors E-6 and below, the Navy will test two variants. One set will feature dark blue shirt and pants, colors similar to the existing coveralls, and the other will feature a light blue shirt and dark blue pants, a contrasting color scheme reminiscent of the traditional dungaree uniform.

Why? Why, uniform envy, naturally.

The design comes after sailors in focus groups voiced overwhelming interest in a two-piece similar to the Coast Guard’s operational dress uniform.

“This was sailor driven and came out of focus groups in Norfolk and San Diego, encompassing roughly 250 sailors from all communities,” said Capt. Mark Runstrom, director of Fleet Supply Operations and Services at U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Runstrom said 84 percent of those sailors said the Navy should pursue a two-piece fire-retardant uniform.

The focus groups also found that sailors want a uniform they can wear while commuting to and from work, which Navy officials say will likely be permitted with the new two-piece.

A return to an all-khaki, at-sea working uniform is bound to be popular with officers and the chiefs mess, who complained loudly in 2010 when the Navy put all ranks in the Navy Working Uniforms, or NWUs.

The logical mind would naturally inquire, Why not just adopt the Coast Guard uniform, then? The report doesn’t say but one presumes that, well, because it’s a Coast Guard uniform.

There’s a constant tension in these decisions between function, tradition, and distinctiveness. The uniform—especially fatigue and other work uniforms—needs to be reasonably comfortable and serve whatever operational functions required of it. At the same time, there’s a powerful drive to have it invoke the uniform worn by previous generations within that service. And, of course, Marines want to look different from soldiers and sailors want to look different from airmen and Coast Guardsmen. It’s actually shocking that we managed to go decades with everyone wearing essentially the same khaki, olive drab fatigue, and woodland camouflage utility uniforms.

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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. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    The logical mind would naturally inquire, Why not just adopt the Coast Guard uniform, then? The report doesn’t say but one presumes that, well, because it’s a Coast Guard uniform.

    Well, duh. Not very logical minds if they have to ask THAT question.

  2. Mu says:

    Why not just adopt the Coast Guard uniform, then?

    There are millions of dollars of procurement at stake. Can’t let that slip away, have to assure the gratitude of suppliers for the post-retirement career.

  3. Bnut says:

    I always hated how the Marine Corp wouldn’t let us wear our cami’s off base to do things like get gas, groceries and what not. Meanwhile everyone else is at Subway or Kroger in their’s. Who gives a damn? That being said, everyone is just angry that MC dress blues are the best. As was said many a time “If you can’y get laid in dress blues you can’t get laid”.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    Except for not being flame retardant the Navy E6 and below dungaree work uniform was the most practical and comfortable work clothes I ever wore. Easy to wash and maintain. There was a company called Seafarer which made a more stylish set with slightly tighter thigh and butt and a better contoured chambray shirt. Most commands turned a blind eye to those of us who wore them. I don’t know if one can buy or would want to buy custom camos but this new design might lend itself to a bit of customizing.

  5. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    I think this article is appropriate here…

    (note for the clueless: Duffelblog is a satire site.)

  6. Slugger says:

    How about doing what the U-boat service did in WW II? They had real nice uniforms that they wore while leaving port. Once at sea, they folded them up and put them away. Then they wore stuff they brought themselves because submarines are smelly and dirty, and the north Atlantic is cold. At the end of a tour, they put the nice clean unis on again. Discipline was not a problem because on board ship everybody knows the officers. Parenthetically, Halsey relaxed the shipboard uniform rules and scored more victories than his predecessor.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    the much-ridiculed “blueberry” camouflage

    always reminds me of the scene in A Bridge Too Far in which a British paratrooper looks at the twigs and leaves stuck in the netting on his mates helmet and asks if their camouflage is quite appropriate to the balcony in the middle of town they’re standing on.

    @Slugger: Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, who wrote Das Boot, mentioned that the U Boat crews favored a brand of black undershorts for reasons I won’t elaborate.

    As camo is quite a fad I looked for some camo underwear. I couldn’t see any.

  8. Amy says:

    Why bring back Khakis? Because they shouldn’t have been eliminated to begin with.

    You know what was great about the old working uniforms? I could tell who was working on the valve below decks because there was a (readable) name tape on the butt. It says loads about the master chiefs on the uniform review board that they can’t see the value in that.

  9. Electroman says:

    Anything beats the McPeak-era USAF officer service dress jacket, complete with Navy-style sleeve insignia of rank. *shudder*

  10. Barry says:

    It’s never failed to astound me just how bad the services are with uniforms. I went into the Army in 1980, just in time to get issued two sets of khakis which I never wore. A great uniform, simple, cheap, looked good.