Marine Corps explores uniform options to offset camouflage supply shortages
Stars and Stripes October 4, 2023
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Marines shopping for new camouflage uniforms at this air base south of Hiroshima will find mostly empty shelves at the Marine Corps Exchange.
A sign posted nearby cites “supply chain and manufacturing related disruptions” for a shortage of the Marines’ distinctive woodland-pattern utility uniform.
The widespread shortage is prompting commanders from the top down to loosen some restrictions and permit Marines to wear nonstandard uniform items until the problem is resolved.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz delivered a sobering update on Sept. 29 via an Instagram video. The uniform shortage will bedevil the devil dogs another year, the commandant said.
“That problem is going to stay with us until the fall of 2024 when the manufacturer can fill that backlog that has been created after COVID,” Smith said. “Until that time, local commanders, battalions and squadrons are authorized to use FROG gear [Flame Resistant Organizational Gear] or desert cammies to mitigate,” Smith said in the video, using the shorthand term for camouflage uniforms.
Flame-resistant gear is a breathable, lightweight and moisture-wicking jersey normally worn under body armor, tactical vests and chest rigs. It’s made from a trademarked material, Nomex, that’s also used to make firefighter clothing and reduce the likelihood of burn injuries, according to Defense.gov.
Smith in the video said he heard from Marines about the uniform shortage during his recent tour of the Indo-Pacific.
American Apparel Inc., the primary manufacturer of the uniforms, has difficulty meeting the uniform quantities stipulated at a fixed price in a contract with the Defense Logistics Agency, the Marine Corps Times reported Saturday, citing company CEO Chuck Lambert. He cannot offset inflation and labor shortages without increasing the uniform cost, he told the newspaper.
The III Marine Expeditionary Force is aware of the issue but was unable provide additional information at this time, spokesman 1st Lt. Alejandro Arteaga told Stars and Stripes by phone Wednesday.
At MCAS Iwakuni, Marines are still expected to turn out in woodland utility uniforms.
“At this time, there have been no policies implemented on MCAS Iwakuni for the wear of desert Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniforms or non-standard uniform items,” base spokesman 1st Lt. Aaron Ellis told Stars and Stripes by email Wednesday.
But commanders on the installation are discussing the shortage to determine the best options for Marines on the air station, he said.
In the meantime, the exchange is limiting Marines to one uniform blouse and one pair of trousers per person.
“What we cannot have is a situation where a Marine is wearing unserviceable cammies, because that looks bad for the Corps,” the commandant said in the video. “And we can’t have a situation where that Marine is given a hard time about those unserviceable cammies.”
Smith added: “We are going to get this fixed Marines, but it’s going to take some patience.”