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Boy in 'workout gear' refused admission to commissary

May. 23, 2014 - 11:11AM   |  
Laura Carothers took these photos of her 7-year-old son, Zach, outside the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay commissary. She and Zach were refused entry when he was wearing what was deemed 'workout gear,' left. Carothers took Zach home to change into other shorts, right, so they could buy milk.
Laura Carothers took these photos of her 7-year-old son, Zach, outside the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay commissary. She and Zach were refused entry when he was wearing what was deemed 'workout gear,' left. Carothers took Zach home to change into other shorts, right, so they could buy milk. (Photos courtesy of Laura Carothers)
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A Navy wife is still puzzling over why she and her 7-year-old son were turned away from the commissary at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, because he was allegedly wearing “workout gear.”

A Marine posted outside the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay commissary recently told Laura Carothers no one wearing workout gear was allowed entry. “I said, ‘Even on a 7-year-old?’ ” said Carothers. “She said, ‘Yes, all ages.’ ”

A regulation is posted at the commissary warning that no workout gear is allowed in the store, Carothers said, with posters showing pictures about what is not allowed.

“I didn’t realize it applied to play clothes,” she said.

She took her son, Zach, home and changed his clothes, then returned — and once inside the commissary, saw many shoppers wearing workout gear, all of whom had just finished a half-marathon. And the Marine who had been on patrol outside on Carothers’ first visit was nowhere to be seen.

Don’t blame the Defense Commissary Agency; this policy apparently was developed and is enforced by that particular Marine Corps base. Commmissaries follow the lead of local installation commanders on this issue “by virtue of our status as a tenant on the installation,” DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson said.

And rules on civilian attire can vary widely, depending on the particular installation, according to Army, Navy and Air Force spokesmen.

Marine noncommissioned officers and senior NCOs conduct random checks in front of the commissary at Kaneohe Bay to ensure shoppers are dressed appropriately because of “frequent noncompliance” with an installation order that outlines acceptable civilian attire on the base, said installation spokeswoman Maj. Pamela Marshall.

“In fact, all Marines are charged with ‘policing their own’ while in the commissary,” she said. “Mistakes may occur, but that is part of the Marine’s development as, in this case, he or she learns to deal with varying circumstances, such as assessment of adult attire versus that of children.”

She could not confirm what happened on the day Carothers visited, but after viewing a photo of Zach in his “workout clothes” that Carothers snapped that day, Marshall said that if mother and son were indeed turned away due to his attire in that photo, “it shows a misevaluation on the part of the individual checking clothing at the commissary.”

That said, Marshall added: “If there were shoppers in PT gear when the mother and son returned, they were also in violation of the base order. Even if other shoppers weren’t stopped, this does not make their attire suitable for the commissary.”

The base order doesn’t address children, “who may at times wear shorts and T-shirts considered PT gear for an adult,” she added.

The dress code policy at Kaneohe Bay applies to the entire installation, and pictures outlining what is acceptable and not acceptable are posted in front of the commissary, exchange, Marine Mart, food court and other retail locations.

The base order prohibits excessively tight or baggy clothing, obscene images or words on clothing, ripped, torn or frayed clothing, midriffs, exposed underarms, cutoff shorts and swimwear in areas other than the beach or pool, Marshall said.

“These are simple, reasonable rules to ensure all armed forces personnel, DoD civilians, employees and all guests are appropriately dressed while on a professional military installation,” she said.

The incident has clearly made an impression on Zach, his mother said. On occasion when they’ve headed to the commissary for groceries, she said Zach has told her: “ ‘I’m not dressed right, Mommy. I can’t go.’ ”

Have you ever been turned away from a commissary or other installation facility because of your attire? Tell us about it. Email staff writer Karen Jowers at

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