Uniforms are always a hot topic for sailors. The Navy’s top officials have been getting an earful about what is and what’s not in their seabags for the past few years as they make their rounds in the fleet.
That’s why the Navy’s top uniformed personnel officer, Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr. and his senior enlisted advisor, Fleet Master Chief (SS) Wes Koshoffer, now have fleet sailors chiming in directly to them on uniform issues, thanks to a bi-monthly uniform focus group.
This panel — open to any sailor in the fleet — is not only a forum to hear sailor’s complaints, but also a way these leaders are having a two-way conversation directly with the fleet. with those in the fleet on what solutions are being considered. and
“We know that you’re tired of uniform change after uniform change,” Nowell in a Nov. 26 virtual all hands call on Facebook.
“We are all about trying to simplify, trying to make the seabag easier for you to maintain.”
On the other hand, he said, where it’s necessary and makes sense and has the support of the fleet, they won’t hesitate to tweak what’s in the seabag or other uniform-related policies, “where it makes sense, Nowell said. “Common, sensical changes.”
But both leaders promised not to blindside the fleet with edicts from Washington that haven’t been fully socialized with the fleet. Already this year, there’s been three NavAdmin messages outlining not only changes that have been approved, but which are also updating what’s currently in the works.
“There’s still plenty of improvements to be made, but what we don’t want to do is surprise you with something,” Nowell said. “I understand.”
For example, he’s gotten an earful from women about the decision to eliminate the long-standing female “bucket” covers. Even though that decision pre-dates his time in the job, he promised to extensively gauge the fleet on any further changes.
“If you want to be part of the conversation, there’s a way to do that with the bi-monthly uniform focus group, he said. “That’s where I get my feedback.
“Our strategy is simply that we owe you a uniform that fits well, that wears well, that’s appropriate to the environment you are working in, with the best materials that are affordable and make sense — and ones that you are proud to wear,” Koshoffer said. “So rather than trying to simplify and narrow the seabag, we’re going to evaluate all the components.”
During the online question and answer period, Nowell fielded questions about two hot-button issues — bringing back beards and allowing sailors to wear the brown NWU Type III fleece as an optional item – neither of which are “dead issues.” he said.
If the Navy were to authorized beards in the future, it will most likely be on shore duty.
“When we’re talking about afloat, I think we get very little disagreement, this is bout risk, it’s about keeping you safe your ship safe,” Nowell said.
The Navy’s safety center has done two deep dives into the issue of beards, he said, most recently in 2018.
“The bottom line is that any amount of facial hair growth will impede the seal of your oxygen breathing apparatus or gas masks – we get very little push back on that.”
Even some of his own family who are in the Navy are asking him for beards, Nowell noted.
“We know it’s a hot topic, we know many of you want it,” he said. “It’s something that we’re looking at and we will keep you informed as we go down the path.”
As for the coyote brown sweater, that’s currently a command-issued piece of gear, Nowell said and can still be worn at those types of commands, but not Navy-wide. The black fleece is a seabag item and issued at boot camp. It’s also a carry-over from the blueberry Type I’s. Approving it Navy-wide as an optional item, Nowell said, creates a logistics issue as it would require a significant ramp up in production to make them available for purchase.
But here, too, he said “it is something we have looked at” and gave the idea the issue could get a further look in the future.
Also in the works, according to Nowell’s NavAdmin 282/19 issued Dec. 9 are improvements to the black fleece that is not only for use with the NWU parka, but also the new black cold weather parka, too.
“Development efforts are underway to enhance the design of the black fleece to include weather-resistant (rain and wind) outer fabric, attached rank tab and two side access pockets with zippered closures.”
In addition new maternity version of the summer white and service dress white uniforms which are being redesigned to “enhance appearance and functionality” with the addition of “princess seams, adjustable side tabs with three buttons, epaulettes and two side seam hidden pockets” The new design will also remove chest pockets as was done for the “current style service khaki and Navy service uniform maternity shirt.”
The message says that testing is ongoing for the new I-Boot 5 that has been undergoing testing for the past year. The boot is expected to expand on the already available I-Boot 4 that went on sale a year ago. One hope for the new boot was a new sole that would work in nearly all shipboard environments, including flight decks.
“The evaluation will continue through the end of calendar year 2019 to facilitate wear during cold weather conditions.” A final report of the tests is expected to be evaluated by Navy leadership and a way forward laid out “by the first quarter of calendar year 2020.” If approved, expect the boot to be in the “seabag and the
fleet may be as early as Fiscal Year 2021.”
Two rollout mandatory wear dates are fast approaching. By Jan. 31, females E-1 through E-6 must have their “crackerjacks” along with it’s distinctive dixie cup white hat in their seabags. The same date will require female chief’s and officers to have purchased their new choker service dress white coat.