The U.S. Marine Corps is currently fighting two wars, and taking casualties in both. The number of active duty troops is being cut from 184,000 to 182,000. It has a budget this year of $25 billion, which is 4 percent of the Navy’s budget (on paper, the Marine Corps is part of the Dept. of the Navy — always a sticky point among Leathernecks.) Congress, the White House and top civilian Defense Dept. brass are demanding the Corps allow women into the three combat branches – infantry, artillery and armor. (More on that in a minute.) So what are the Jarheads discusssing, debating and wondering about?
The no-pockets policy. It seems there is an informal suggestion (read: YOU WILL OBEY!) that Marines in uniform should not put their hands in their pockets. It looks sloppy. Specificcally, Marine Corps Order P1020.34G, the order on Marine Corps uniform regulations, reads: “The use of chewing gum, chewing tobacco, cigarettes; hands in pockets; or the consumption of food or beverage while walking in uniform or while in formation, are examples of activities that detract from an appropriate military presence. However, good judgment will govern the application of this policy in the field environment.”
The “good judgment” part is a decided departure from most military orders, but let’s march on. A publication called “Task & Purpose,” which I had never heard of and now you and I both have, got interested in this because of a semicolon. (Hang on, we own the Marines along with the other armed forces and thus should be interested in what’s going on.) Since the words “hands in pockets” is bracketed by semicolons, “Task & Purpose” wondered, does this mean don’t put your hands in your pockets while walking or in formation? The Leathernecks fired back, so to speak. Capt. Dominic Pitrone, a Marine spokesman, replied: “If you notice, the words ‘; hands in pocket;’ are bracketed by semicolons, which make it a stand-alone statement, separate from the full sentence and the text ‘while walking.’ The grammatical (and official) interpretation of this is that you are being told that you cannot keep your hands in your pocket, period.”
OK, I agree that this is a minor matter. and certainly Capt. Pitrone has better things to do, like getting ready for his 12th combat deployment. So to save everyone time and trouble, we shall solve this problem. First, the obvious answer is to issue trousers (never pants) without pockets, or sew up the pocket openings. Maybe instead of pockets the supply sergeant issues everyone a backpack to hold stuff. Wait, they already have them. The Marines refer to the item by a military term: “backpacks.” Any of these solutions might cause problems of where to put small items such as gum, coins or hand grenades, so we follow the lead of Scottish regiments who wore kilts in combat through World War I. They still wear them in ceremonies, but traditional kilts don’t have pockets. The laddies solved that problem centuries ago with the sporran, the purse-like pouch on a belt hanging in the front of the kilt covering the crotch. In combat, insert a small skillet in the sporran and it doubles as a flak jock. (Incidentally, USMC rules also prohibit officers in uniform from using an open umbrella or pushing a baby buggy. And one of my sons, a Marine officer, had to receive permission from his superiors before getting married.)
Remember the no-pockets policy also includes other prohibitions such as chewing gum or tobacco, cigarettes or consuming food or beverage while walking in uniform or while in formation. No one wants to see the Presidential Honor Guard lined up on the White House South Lawn to greet the King of Canada or simply to welcome President Trump, back from his daily flip-flop, with a few good men chewing tobacco or nibbling a Big Mac and sipping a Coke. It not only presents an unmilitary scene but could be taken as sponsorships. Come to think of it, considering the Corps’ sequestered budget, a banner reading: “The Fourth of July parade is brought to you by Ford” could defray some costs, not to mention: “The Iraq invasion – this Bush is for you!”
Then we have the female situation. For some time the PC forces have been pushing to put women in submarines, SEAL teams and as parachute testers. The last holdout positions in the armed services were the aforementioned three combat branches – infantry, artillery and armor. The other services have gone along with the orders, but the Marines continue to resist, not overtly, you understand, but they are fighting wars, getting gunned down at Chatanooga recruting stations and serving in hot spots the rest of us don’t even know about. Putting Marine females into a foxhole south of Sinjar is not real high on the Corps’ priorities.
The USMC even ran its own tests which showed that female Marines had problems carrying a “wounded” 220-pound grunt with fully loaded gear – well, at least he was fully loaded — from the bar, past the MPs, to a waiting getaway tank. Still, the Marine Corps has long had the fewest female members of any of the military services — fewer than 8 percent of active-duty troops, compared to the Navy with 18 percent, the Army has 14 percent female and the Air Force with 19 percent. Must that 8 percent keep their hands out of their purses? What if their makeup is running and they need a Kleenex?
Well, somehow the Jarheads will figure ways. For their miniscule budget, they have always been low man on the supply pole, and have a saying: “We have had so little for so long, we can now do anything with nothing forever.” Female Marines will join the combat arms, at least those who qualify on the Mortar Catching Range. And as for the no-pockets policy, simple: just abolish semicolons. “We who have anything with nothing.”
Ashby is Semper Fi at email@example.com