"Stripping away the branch insignia makes soldiers more like Marines."
The Army is rooting out its branches
By Harry Levins
POST-DISPATCH SENIOR WRITER
Saturday, Aug. 11 2007
Now that we're at war, you see something you rarely saw in peacetime â€" soldiers
wearing field uniforms in airports and hotels.
And if you look closely at Army officers, you may notice that the new uniforms
lack something found on older uniforms â€" branch insignia.
Time was when an officer wore his rank on his right collar. On the left collar,
he wore his branch insignia â€" crossed rifles for infantry, for example, or a
castle for engineers.
Now, the collar is bare. The rank has been moved to a tab dangling down the
shirt's front. The branch insignia is nowhere to be seen.
The result: It's impossible to "read" an officer's field uniform.
I called the Department of the Army to ask why. Nobody had an answer, although
they agreed (off the record) with my own theory:
Stripping away the branch insignia makes soldiers more like Marines.
Back when Army officers still displayed their branches, I asked a Marine
colonel why his service made it so hard to "read" a uniform. Aviators excepted,
Marines show no clues to their military specialities. Why?
"Because we're all plain-and-simple Marines," the colonel said.
He explained, "If you ask a soldier what he does, he'll say, 'I'm infantry,' or
'I'm airborne,' or 'I'm a tanker.' If you ask a Marine what he does, he'll say,
'I'm a Marine.'"
I suspect that the Army's decision to strip away the branch insignia is a way
of prodding officers to see one another as soldiers first and specialists
Back in my soldiering days as a lieutenant in Germany in 1964-65, I proudly
pinned the crossed rifles of the infantry on my left collar tab and donned a
scarf that was colored the powder blue of the infantry.
Mind you, few of us going through the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., had
wanted to be in the infantry.
But even though few wanted the infantry, everybody respected the infantry. For
the first time in my life, I was macho. I could look down my nose at captains
and majors wearing the insignia of, say, the Finance Corps, or the
I'm guessing that the new uniform is an effort to dampen branch rivalries and
get soldiers to thinking of themselves as soldiers.
Oh â€" those colored scarves are long gone. Too bad. On the day I learned that
I'd drawn the infantry, I said, "Infantry? Aw, (bleep)!"
I was unaware that standing behind me was a major of artillery from the ROTC
He leaned over my shoulder and said with a malicious grin:
"Look at it this way, Levins â€" the scarf will go good with your eyes."
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GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952- (Plt #437-PISC)-'72
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