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Sleeves up! Here's why the commandant reversed unpopular uniform policy

Feb. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
1st Marine Division welcomes new commanding genera
Marines will again roll their sleeves up like these Marines of 1st Marine Division standing in formation during a change of command ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Lance Cpl. Tyler Reiriz/Marine Corps)
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Marines will again roll their sleeves up like these Marines of 1st Marine Division standing in formation during a change of command ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Lance Cpl. Tyler Reiriz/Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps’ two-year-old “sleeves down” policy ended with an announcement late Tuesday night on the Marines’ official social media platforms. But a spokesman for the commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, said the change has been under consideration for some time.

“The Commandant has been leaning into it for awhile now, as he has taken to heart the many conversations he’s had with thousands of his [noncommissioned officers] in recent months,” Lt. Col. David Nevers said in an email. “After speaking to a theater full of corporals and sergeants yesterday at Quantico, he decided it was time to announce the change.”

The change takes effect March 9 and affects Marines wearing their desert camouflage utilities in noncombat areas. A Marine administrative message, No. 078/14, was published Wednesday formalizing the move. It’s signed by Maj. Gen. Mike Regner, the staff director at Marine Corps headquarters.

One of the biggest early policy changes of Amos’s tenure as commandant, the decision to eliminate rolled-up sleeves on the Marines’ summer camouflage utility uniform was hotly contested from the start. The Marine Corps Uniform Board pushed the change through in 2011 over the objections of Marines surveyed about the issue, who voted with a 61 percent majority to keep their rolled sleeves.

In documents describing the board’s reasoning, board members said the decision would promote uniformity in the ranks and help the Marines to “train as you fight,” since they wore their sleeves long downrange.

Marine officials said they expected Marines’ frustration with the new policy to fade over time. Marine Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of 1st Marine Division, said last year that Marines didn’t like change of any kind, and would adjust to it eventually regardless.

“We were joking the other day, if four years from now the commandant twice removed said, ‘OK, we’re going to roll sleeves up,’ there would be 20 letters to the editor going ‘this is bull---!’” he told Marine Corps Times in an interview.

But the frustration has shown no sign of fading. In a recently launched “#AskCMC” social media project that solicited questions for the commandant from active-duty troops, a question about changing the sleeves policy was one of the highest-rated by users. Amos said he has also fielded questions on the policy during his “Reawakening” town hall discussions with NCOs aboard Marine Corps Installations. These events have largely been closed-press.

“As we have traveled throughout our Corps, many of you have let us know how important your identity as a Marine is to you and the Marines you lead. I can’t tell you how many times we have been asked the persistent question ‘Commandant, are we ever going to return to SLEEVES UP?’” Amos wrote in his Tuesday announcement. “I’ve thought a lot about this over the past 2.5 years; I realize that it’s important to you. Sleeves up clearly and visually sets us apart.”

It’s possible more policy changes are in the works: Amos is still fielding questions from Marines via Facebook and Twitter, and will answer the most popular ones in a video interview this week. That interview will be posted in the coming days, Nevers said.

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