Leaders of Marine units can let their service members wear nonstandard uniform items amid a long-term shortage of the regular camouflage uniform.
The Marine Corps says it won’t have a full stock of the woodland-pattern camouflage combat utility uniform ― the everyday outfit for most Marines ― until summer or fall 2024. The shortage has prompted the top Marine leader to authorize unit commanders to allow the desert-colored camouflage combat utility uniform or the flame-resistant organizational gear, known as FROGs.
This flexibility is a rare step for a service that prides itself on adherence to strict uniform standards.
“What we cannot have is a situation where a Marine is wearing unserviceable cammies, because that looks bad for the Corps, and we can’t have a situation where that Marine is being given a hard time about those unserviceable cammies,” Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said in a video message to the force Thursday, using a nickname for the camouflage combat utility uniform.
“We’re going to get this fixed, Marines, but it’s going to take a little patience,” Smith said.
The commandant said he and Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, had just come back from a trip to the Indo-Pacific, where Marines repeatedly told them, “I can’t get cammies.”
Smith and Ruiz, who also appeared in the video, were wearing their service uniforms rather than cammies.
“The guidance to battalion and squadron leaders and above is to make decisions that uphold the high standards of our service while maintaining mission readiness and reducing overall impact on daily operations,” Maj. John Parry, a Marine spokesman, said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times on Wednesday, the day before Smith’s message.
“This does not mean a Marine may make a decision unilaterally to wear a different uniform or civilian attire due to a serviceability issue with their designated uniform of the day,” Parry said.
Marines have been struggling to find cammies at the Marine Corps Exchange — the “one-stop shopping destination” for Marines — or even at thrift stores, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
Marine recruits are supposed to receive three sets of woodland cammies and two sets of desert cammies, but the Marine Corps has been issuing two woodland sets and one desert set, Parry told Marine Corps Times in August. Recruits and new Marines have been doing entry-level training in flame-resistant organizational gear, typically reserved for deployments.
Meanwhile, Marines in the fleet have had to get creative with tailoring. Sgt. Ethan Underwood told Marine Corps Times in August that he knows Marines at Yuma, Arizona, who have patched up holes in cammies using Marine-pattern bandanas or scraps of old uniforms.
Chuck Lambert, CEO of American Apparel Inc, the primary manufacturer of the uniforms, told Marine Corps Times his company has had trouble producing enough items at the fixed price in the Defense Logistics Agency contract. Even as inflation increased and it became harder to find workers, he said, he couldn’t increase the price of items to pay for a big bump in wages.
“McDonald’s and a lot of the fast food guys are paying $2 and $3 more an hour than we could afford to pay,” the CEO said in August. “Where they could go up on the price of the hamburger, we can’t go up on the price of a uniform.”
The Defense Logistics Agency has awarded two additional contracts to companies to make the uniforms, potentially easing the shortage, according to Lambert and online records.
It’s unclear whether Marines in units that allow desert cammies will be able to get their hands on those uniforms, either. The website associated with the Marine Corps Exchange estimates the desert-colored blouses will be out of stock until fall 2024.
“Based on the current USMC course of action, the USMC desert camouflage uniforms are unavailable at this time on myNavyExchange.com,” Courtney Williams, a spokeswoman for Navy Exchange Service Command, confirmed in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times on Friday. “For any information and specifics regarding the uniform’s current stock levels or in reference to any decision-making on its resupply allocation, I’ll defer to the USMC and MCX.”
The desert cammies were, since 2008, the standard attire for Marines during the summer, as the Marine Corps’ attention was focused on wars in the Middle East. The Marine Corps in 2016 ditched that rule, making the woodland cammies the standard uniform year-round, with exceptions for deployments, training and certain installations.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Friday with a statement from the Navy Exchange.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.