J. D. Pendry
The Army Chief of Staff announced that effective July 4, 2001, Independence Day, male soldiers may carry black umbrellas when wearing the class A or B service uniform or the traditional dress blue. Use of the umbrella when in the field or when wearing the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) in garrison remains prohibited. The Chief did promise one feminist group that further study would determine the feasibility of allowing women soldiers to carry the umbrella while wearing Maternity BDUs. The Chief stated, during a press conference, that he didn’t know why this sensible change was not made by one of his predecessors and that it [the change] would serve as a further illustration of the Army’s desire and willingness to move into the future.
Pentagon rumor has it that the Chief tired of watching soldiers standing by Pentagon doorways on rainy days, umbrella hitch hiking, waiting for an accommodating woman, airmen or sailor to come by. Another rumor from the field implies that the reason for the change is that the colors on the flash of the new black beret run when they get wet.
The chief tasked the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to ensure that Military Clothing Sales Stores stocked this new optional clothing bag item in sufficient quantities to meet the need. Although the announcement did not mention a specific brand of umbrella, those carried must meet specifications outlined in a message released to the field today.
The Chief also tasked the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) with ensuring that soldiers know the standards for umbrella use. The SMA tasked noncommissioned officers across the Army to be the Army’s standard bearers and ensure that soldiers understood the history and proper use of the umbrella. Along this line, the Army distributed Power Point presentations and briefing material on the proper way to care for and display the umbrella. Women in the Army fear that those who’ve never carried the umbrella while in uniform may not do so properly and are offering advice along that line so as to ensure that the symbolism of this unique uniform item is not lost.
In making his decision, the Chief ruled out other options such as the umbrella hat, often seen in baseball parks in the summer. Proponents of the umbrella hat were disappointed because it also sported dual cup holders that could augment the popular camel backs in use by soldiers today. The chief also rejected NATO woodland camouflage and Kevlar versions of the umbrella and umbrella hat. This of course, prompted an immediate response from the congressional districts that manufacture these items.
Members of Congress also questioned the Chief’s decision regarding the short time line it gives for fielding the umbrella. Some expressed concern that a significant number of them may actually come from communist China or from countries relying on child and slave labor for production. The Director of the Defense Logistics Agency, in a memo to congress, assured them that this was not an issue as most umbrellas in the AAFES inventory meeting the required specifications come from sweatshops here in the United States manned primarily by illegal immigrants who have no employee benefits and are paid less than the minimum wage. On another note, legislation introduced in Congress requires the Chief to address the Army’s reported ammunition shortfall before proceeding with the umbrella fielding. Congress also threatened further hearings on the issue.
Members of some military associations called for the Chief’s resignation, adding this change to a list of others they insist continue to lower standards and feminize the Army. One group of former soldiers set out on a protest march to Washington vowing to take this issue to the White House. For the time being, however, they are locked in debate somewhere at a rest stop on Interstate 95 trying to determine whose march it is, whose in charge of it, what’s the agenda and which way is the White House.
Former members of the Women’s Army Corps and other women veterans held a protest rally at the Women in the Military Museum located at Arlington National Cemetery. They protested the move as one that will take away this uniform item that is unique to women, causing them to lose their identity and blend in with the rest of the Army.
Some subordinate unit commanders received reprimands for openly questioning the decision. Subsequently ordered to not discuss it in any public forum most remain silent on the issue. While some accept the change, they are wondering why black and not another color. Others question why they cannot affix unit identities, in the form of branch identification and unit insignia, to the umbrella. Others still, are asking for branch colors and some believe that there should be a distinction between officer and enlisted umbrellas. One suggestion is that officer umbrellas sport a gold braid similar to that seen on the National Color. The chief stated that he might reconsider that point, as soldiers should be able to locate their officers in a rainy day crowd.
The chief would not commit to any future uniform changes, although he did admit that others were under review and that he is entertaining some suggestions such as sabers and Stetsons for the cavalry and red suspenders for the field artillery…