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What's been going on with the Marines' uniforms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You have probably seen those ads, the few and the proud snapping to attention in perfect dress blues. Marines are famously meticulous about their uniforms, but for more than a year, they haven't always been able to wear the ones they are supposed to. WUNC's Jay Price has more.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: After touring several installations last fall, Marine Commandant Eric Smith and the senior enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, addressed the Marine Corps in a video.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ERIC SMITH: Marines, Sgt. Maj. Ruiz and I just came back from the Indo-Pacific. Several themes emerged from individual Marines and units as we talked to them. The first was cammies (ph). I can't get cammies.

PRICE: Cammies are camouflage uniforms. Yes, the Marines have a uniform shortage. It started in 2022. And the problem, Gen. Smith said, will linger until manufacturers fill backlogged orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SMITH: Until that time, local commanders, battalions and squadrons are authorized to use frog gear or desert cammies to mitigate.

PRICE: Frog gear is a special flame-resistant uniform. And mitigating? Well, here are some Marines doing that, a recent training exercise with live ammunition at Camp Lejeune. One group of Marines was in their standard green woodland camouflage, but mixed in with them were others in the tan desert version. That's the mitigating. The troops in the tan uniforms were saving wear and tear on the all-important green ones, which are the regulation standard daily uniform. Lt. Col. Cassandra Stanton is with their command, the II Marine Expeditionary Force. She said leaders of its larger units have been given flexibility in deciding which uniforms to use in a given situation.

CASSANDRA STANTON: This means they may make decisions regarding the uniform of the day at their respective units, events that may be different than the actual uniform of the day.

PRICE: So why does a uniform shortage distress Marines so much, they're willing to broach it with the commandant? Well, you might ask that if you haven't been a Marine yourself, a Marine like retired Sgt. Maj. Eric Lopez of Northlake, Texas, a 26-year veteran who served in Afghanistan and was the top enlisted marine in an artillery unit.

SMITH: We carry ourselves in a manner from Day 1. Once we graduate boot camp, we look good. And no matter what uniform it is, we have that sense of pride.

PRICE: In other words, it's part of the ethos, the whole idea of being a Marine. He says it's not that Marines are hung up on clothes, it's about doing everything right.

ERIC LOPEZ: So having a uniform that's squared away, we put our best foot forward. We're professional. We act professional. And we look professional.

PRICE: No doubt to the great relief of many a sergeant, the Marines should soon be able to look squared away again all the time. Col. Wilfred Rivera oversees the Marine Corps' maintenance and supply policy.

WILFRED RIVERA: As a result of the DLA efforts, the current contracts are meeting the schedule and production requirements. And as of today, our ability to supply the Corps is back on track.

PRICE: DLA is the Defense Logistics Agency. Rivera says the basic problems were labor shortages and inflation, lingering effects of the pandemic. The DLA has now changed some suppliers and is paying more to cover higher material prices and the costs of hiring and retaining enough workers. Rivera says the shortage is expected to be over by the end of June, and the Corps learned some lessons from it.

RIVERA: Our supply chain has become more resilient. And it also helps us train like we're going to fight by allowing those commanders to be able to make decisions that allow those units to really perform for the Marine Corps and answer our nation's call.

PRICE: By adding a little temporary flexibility to that starched esprit de corps.

For NPR News, I'm Jay Price in Durham, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jay Price
Jay Price has specialized in covering the military for nearly a decade.