Pentagon Cracks Down on Comfortable Clothes

StrategyPage — Pentagon Cracks Down on Comfortable Clothes

American military commanders, at least the ones back in the United States, are cracking down on how U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia, “dress down,†while off duty. Orders have gone out to ditch the tank tops, flip flops, short shorts and spandex. Americans in uniform have always been noted for adopting less military, and more informal clothing the farther away they get from the Pentagon. Alas, the proliferation of photojournalists, and the ability to immediately send images in via satellite, from anywhere in the world, has brought these casually dressed G.I.’s to the attention of the well dressed and carefully groomed brass back in Washington.

Actually, this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. In late 2001, American Special Forces in Afghanistan, were caught making war while sporting beards and dressed like the locals. This would not do, even if it was a life saving measure (hostile Afghans were more likely to shoot at a foreigner than another Afghan.) The well protected, and well dressed, Pentagon brass ordered the Special Forces operators to get shaved and into uniform. There were said to be a few early retirements because of that, which the “shave and change clothes†order seen by some troopers as a last straw. The latest, “look sharp†order won’t last long. They never do. Give it a year or two, and the troops will be dressing down to a tolerable level once more. Note that these casually dressed service folk were not out giving the locals an embarrassing view of casual American dress. That’s because for over a decade, U.S. troops have been basically confined to their overseas bases. When they dress down, they only ones that see it are other Americans, and any locals that work on the base. The local commanders aren’t complaining, as they realize that the relaxed dress codes are good for morale. But for a well pressed officer back in the Pentagon, that sort of creature comfort, even if its in the midst of a dusty Afghan base, is offensive and must be corrected.

This is rather amusing. I take some of the analysis with a grain of salt, since there’s no link to the official order or the reasoning behind it. The sight of American males running around in shorts in a Muslim country, shown on local television, might be slightly counterproductive to our mission. More likely, however, is that there are female soldiers adopting similarly unmodest attire–potentially much more problematic.

It should also be noted that “respect for local customs” sometimes becomes a convenient excuse for maintaining discipline. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, our soldiers were denied (so far as I know, for the time ever) the right to drink alcoholic beverages during off duty hours. Subsequently, alcohol has been banned, so far as I know, from every operation, whether in a Muslim land or not. In a similar vein, it wouldn’t surprise me if offense to Muslims wasn’t used as a pretext for keeping soldiers from going “too far” in their desire to look unmilitary while off duty.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , ,
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. timekeeper says:

    This is not a new thing at all, at least for navy personnel.

    I can remember as far back as my second deployment (in 1990) when in order to leave the ship (at all), we were required to wear a collared shirt (no t-shirts or tank tops) and a belt. Subsequent cruises included additional restrictions; when we pulled into Arabic ports, long pants were required to leave the immediate area of the pier (the pier area doubled as a track, so people could leave the ship in PT gear, but were stopped at the gate to the compound), as well as a collared shirt.

  2. John Anderson says:

    HEh-heh. I am reminded of one (at least) of Bill Mauldin’s “Willy and Joe” posts during WWII: after weeks in the field, they are about to enter a French town for R&R – to be greeted by a sign of Gen. Patton’s dress requirements, which they have no hope of fulfilling.

  3. Amy says:

    I just got out of the Army after 6 years of service, have been deployed to several different places in the Middle East, and none of the units that I have ever been in have allowed us to wear civilian clothes.

    If we had “off duty” time, which was rarely, we had to wear either the uniform, or the PT uniform.

    We were only allowed to deploy with one set of civilian clothes; and they couldn’t be shorts, jeans, cut offs, etc. Essentially, they had to be khakis or dress pants. T-shirts were not allowed, tank tops, etc. They had to be long-sleeved so as to not expose too much skin and offend the locals. We were also not allowed to wear open-toed shoes.

    If the Pentagon is cracking down on casual dress, then it’s a good thing. Soldiers should ALWAYS present a neat, orderly, professional, and conservative appearance at all times. Every Soldier is a “walking commercial” for the US Army, the US Military, and the entire country.