Cmdr. Patrick Foster, at right, told his crew Aug. 27 aboard the destroyer Barry they can wear ball caps with NWUs starting Sept. 1. (Mark D. Faram / Staff)
Sailors sound off on ball caps
When the Navy announced Aug. 26 that service officials had approved wearing command ball caps with NWUs as an optional replacement for the eight-point covers, many sailors rejoiced. Others groaned. And still others yawned.
Navy Times asked sailors what they think of the move — well deserved or ill-advised?
Here’s what you had to say:
Now I get to carry two covers because someone will have a pissy fit about uniformity during morning quarters instead of just grouping the sailors with ball caps and the sailors with 8-points.
— Phillip Spencer
The baseball cap was worn with the dungarees with no trouble, so why is it bad with this uniform? The baseball cap expresses a little esprit de corps. I don’t see why the Navy needs camouflaged uniforms at sea. Sharks can’t see that well.
— Michael Fondren
There will always be negative people against any change. Ball caps display command pride and bring back a little tradition to a modern Navy that has in some ways gotten lost. As far as appearance, I’ve seen plenty of sailors wear the 8-point cover incorrectly, whether it was proper fit or just laziness. Sloppiness can be policed, fix your sailors. Can’t wait to wear my ball cap with pride.
— Ian Swensen
It is sloppy. Marines are touted as having the sharpest uniforms, yet when we try and bring some uniformity between the branches with NWUs we go back to ball caps. I loved the ball cap but with this uniform it is sloppy.
— Stephen White
Ball caps and cammies look ridiculous! They’re fleeters, and they should look the part! I was a Seabee and had to earn my cammies!
— Craig Johnson
Ballcaps, yes, but not with NWUs. Kind of like wearing a hat with a tuxedo; doesn’t fit.
— Jason Hodges
I’m sure the very old school sailors said the same thing about wearing ballcaps with dungarees — instead of the dixie cup.
You want to boost morale, let the sailors wear the ball caps. They will cherish them long after they have served. Ask a vet.
— Manuel A.
Ball caps with NWUs were always stupid. The uniform calls for the 8-point cover. When you have to wash a ball cap, it loses its structure. When an 8-point gets washed, put the cardboard mold back in, and it’s back in business. If unit identification was a problem, unit patches on the pocket should’ve been the standard. Ball caps with NWUs is like putting a rag top on a humvee. And the people who complain about the blue digital camouflage don’t understand that the underway uniform, which is a million times more comfortable, is the blue coveralls. The argument about blending in to the ocean means that a neon yellow uniform should be the Navy uniform. That argument makes no sense.
— Wilder Guerra
The uniform board has to justify its existence.
— Curtis Garretson
Too many people already wear their 8-point cover like a ball cap anyway. Drives me insane!
— Ant Longo
Bring back the dungarees and the ball caps.
— William Vickers
Hoo Yah, ball caps! I’ve collected ball caps from every command I’ve been at! I’m glad to see them come back!
— Damien Elser
Can we stop with all these changes already? It’s getting ridiculous.
— Tania Montalvo
Ball caps look utterly ridiculous while wearing NWUs.
— Ryan Emery
Best thing the Navy has done in, well, in the last 7 years I’ve been in.
— Richard Ghiloni
The important thing is how one wears a uniform. A drunk in a tux does not make the tux look any better.
— Daniel Perkins
Wear ball caps with coveralls only, not with NWUs.
— Gerard Di
I’d rather wear my command ball cap because it shows the pride of the command you work with. Glad that they’re back.
— Kevin Cook
ABOARD THE DESTROYER BARRY, NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, — You asked, pressed, urged and pleaded. And after six years, the Navy listened.
Starting Sept. 1, ball caps are authorized with the Navy working uniform. The new rules allow it to be worn wherever the NWU can be worn: in the fleet, ashore, off-base and even off-duty.
The chief of naval personnel made clear that the policy turnaround stemmed from one place: the deckplates.
“The decision was borne out of the sailor feedback that [Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens] received at all-hands calls,” said Vice Adm. Bill Moran in an Aug. 28 phone interview, a day after the new policy was announced. “The secretary asked us to look into it and make it happen as soon as we could.
“Sailors see this issue through the lens of added unit esprit de corps and convenience, but it also empowers our command triads by giving COs greater authority to decide what works best for their unit,” Moran said.
Mabus decided enough was enough and ordered the change in July, which applies to “NAVY” and command ball caps. The “NAVY” ball caps, issued to sailors at boot camp after the Battlestations graduation exercise, are sea bag items.
Command ball caps will now be considered optional items that can be worn in place of the eight-point cover.
The new rules designate the command covers as “organizational clothing,” the same category as flight suits and flame-resistant coveralls, a move that allows commands to use appropriated funds to purchase the popular headgear for their crews.
Those moves sit well with Cmdr. Patrick Foster, commanding officer of the destroyer Barry.
“I know my crew wants it; as I’m walking around and talking to my sailors, they’re telling me that,” Foster said. “And effective Sept. 1, I’m authorizing ball cap wear for Barry sailors.”
Foster said his crew wants “to represent the command by wearing a USS Barry ball cap,” adding: “As the CO I’m happy to have them do it.”
The new rules
As far as Big Navy is concerned, wherever the NWU can be worn, so can the command ball caps. The message states only exception.
“The eight-point cover will remain the basic uniform component cover for the NWUs and thus will be the only appropriate cover for personnel uniform inspections and special occasions where sailors are ordered to wear their NWUs with eight-point cover to ensure a uniform appearance within the command,” states NAVADMIN 200/14, which detailed the policy changes.
Other than that, sailors can wear ball caps in lieu of the eight-point cover in a straight one-for-one swap.
It’s up to skippers to decide on any exclusions to the rule for the local area or special occasions.
But what qualifies as a command cap and what can be worn on them are governed by regulations.
An authorized ball cap must be “navy blue, wool, synthetic or blended fabric,” according to Article 3501.8 of the regulations. Training team caps of different colors — even with command crests — are not authorized for wear outside the command. And although fitted caps are authorized, caps “may have adjustable hat band and mesh back section,” the regs state.
The issue cap has “NAVY” emblazoned in 1¼-inch gold block letters centered on the front. But caps can also feature the “command name, designation and/or command logos in good taste,” the regs say.
When worn as a uniform item with any uniform, the Navy authorizes some customization. For example, officers may may wear a miniature rank insignia pin and chiefs may wear the their garrison cap anchor insignia.
Petty officers, similarly, can wear the silver eagle and chevron pin for their rank. Those who rate gold chevrons — 12 consecutive years of honorable service — can wear the gold chevron pin.
Commands can have the caps embroidered with a sailor’s rank, role or rating centered on the back of the cap. Among the examples: “CO, XO, CMC, Plankowner, CHENG, OPS, DECK LCPO, etc.,” the regs state, noting that long titles must be “in good taste.”
Embroidered U.S. flags and other historical or command specific items can be embroidered into the caps, too, but patches cannot be sewn on. For example, Barry’s cap has a “Greek Bulldog,” the ship’s mascot, embroidered on the right side of the cap with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag — known as the First Navy Jack — on the left.
Ball caps can also be worn with organizational clothing such as flight suits, coveralls, flame-resistant coveralls and the Navy physical training uniform.
The regs state covers with insignia pins or positional embroidery can’t be worn out in town.
Foster, the Barry skipper, said he’s making it clear to his troops that ball caps must look sharp to be worn off the ship, free of paint splatter and wear and tear.
“It’s just up to us to police the policy, and I’ve made it clear to my crew what I expect,” Foster said. “Remember you’re a sailor 24/7 and you have to represent your command and the service properly.”
“Our sailors have a love affair with their ball caps,” MCPON Stevens said in a phone interview.“I told CNO and CNP that if that’s what our sailors want, then I’m good with it.”
Ball caps haven’t been worn with the primary working uniform since dungarees slipped into Navy history.Most junior sailors lack the attachment to or experience of wearing their ball cap with anything but coveralls — and certainly not out in town.
To them, ball caps have a different meaning — rooted in their boot camp experience, where they got their “NAVY” ball caps after completing the Battlestations graduation exercise, earning the right to be called a sailor.
“That ball cap, to me, was a sense of accomplishment, a symbol of becoming a sailor,” said Quartermaster 3rd Class Leslie Fiedler, a Barry sailor with two and a half years in. “To me, the command ball cap welcomes us as a part of the ship, as members of this command.”
She said the recent rule change was “good for ship morale,” but she doesn’t plan to wear her Barry cover off-base, believing the eight-point “looks more professional.”
Others, like Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SW) Ryan Green, say they’re not sure what all the hubbub is about.
“Most of the people I work with don’t seem to be in favor of the move,” he said. “I personally don’t have an opinion, either way.”
Still, he said the act of switching from the Navy ball cap to the command one is a significant step that “shows you are a more complete sailor.”
Another Barry sailor breathed a sigh of relief, though, saying that he’ll no longer have to rely as much on the eight-point, which requires starch to keep its octagonal shape crisp, flat and wrinkle free. The ball cap, in contrast, is easy, he said.
“It’s a low-maintenance option,” Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class (SW/IUSS) Jason Welch said. “To wear it and look sharp, you just need to keep it clean.”
Welch, a 13-year veteran, hailed the move as a chance to show unit pride again.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said. “I’m glad it’s here and this issue is finally resolved — it’s been a mess deck rumor for so long, and, personally, I’m glad it’s back.”