The Case of the Survival Wardrobe Continuum 

     We were about 4 or 5 weeks deep into US Army Basic Training, back in Ft Polk, LA in the early 1970s – “Little Vietnam” as they called it – and the drill sergeants, were starting to back off a bit with their constant abuse. We were in a formation in our company area, which was right across the street from a small PX, a laundry and a few things, like a an old fashioned strip center. Restricted, we did not dare go over there or leave the company area when off-duty. The drill sergrant asked,“any questions?” right before dismissing us.

      I raised my hand and asked, “when we will be old enough to cross the street?”

      Everyone laughed at my sarcastic ass, even the Sarge.

     “We'll see,” and he dismissed us.

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      My joke worked because within a few hours, the word was passed that we could indeed cross the street! Well! We did. The little store was worthless, but you could get a beer there, and a pretty piss-poor, little pizza and a bag of chips. And then, myself and apparently quite a few others decided that we would deposit several sets of Army fatigues over there at the laundry and get them starched! Yeah! Be all looking like the stract cadre walking around. Yes-sir! Be looking mighty fine for all those damn, morning inspections too.

      Within two days we got them back from the laundry. Cost almost nothing. And the following morning we wore them, breaking that heavy, cardboard starch that only those of us in the “green machines your granddaddy called the service” would understand. Driving your foot through the cardboard leg of poster-board pants. OO-ahh. Draft dodgers have no idea what I am yakking about here.

      And there we stood in morning formation. Hundreds of us in toto, but only about 40 of us were starched up. Suddenly the drill sergeants – once friendly, but NEVER to be trusted – started walking the lines,

      “YOU!” “YOU!” “YOU!”

      They started pulling troops from the lines! One even came by me, gave me a dirty look and called me a “YOU!” and he pulled me out, too! What the…?

      They put us in several, new lines. I took a good look around and we were all the guys who had our uniforms starched. That was the only common denominator I could see. Maybe we were going to get a prize, you know? They marched us over to several of our nearby barracks. Now, these were old wooden barracks and, being in the near swamp levels of Louisiana, the buildings were up a couple of feet, off the ground on support beams. And being swampy, the underneath's of which were also shady, wet, muddy and yucky. The Baskerville Moors of Polk quicksand!

       They lined us up by these buildings, and then they ordered us face down on the ground, Then they ordered us to low crawl up to…and then under those barracks, plum out the other side. All to the delight of the other soldiers watching with glee. WELL! I did what I was told, fearing worse on the other end! Why me, Lord? There are hairy spiders and poisonous snakes down here! Leeches and shit! Hells bells, they got gators in the Louisiana bayou! Lumpy, mud and who knows what-all!

       They lined us up and back again we were so ordered! Then back yet again. Then, they lined us up and the drill sergeants took a good look at us, making contorted and disgusted faces. One sarge, the most articulate at yelling in melodious cuss words and clever phrases of ridicule made a speech as only he could. It was full of cussing and yelling and stomping about and well, it was got-dam, beautiful, it was, you know, in that negative sort of way. But I can't recall it word-for-word, so I will summarize it for you all here.

      In so many words he explained that you cannot love your uniform too much, can't worry about it being too clean or kempt. He explained that we constantly clean and polish and brush our uniforms because we were supposed to get them dirty. Every day. All the time. That was our job to get dirty and clean them. Get dirty and clean them. You didn't love your country if you weren't getting dirty defending it. We were in the Army, and if you worry about your clothes getting messed up or dirty, even for a second, you might hesitate to duck, dive or fight, and that might get you killed in – "This Man's Army!"

      So, he explained, in order for us starchie-low-lifes to get a proper day's training in, we first needed to be roughed up, and made to forget about how "purty" we looked. Then we fell in beside the other troops for the day's other fun and games of mental and physical abuse. And we starchie-low-lifes spent the whole day in caked mud. From there after? They didn't care if you showed up in starched fatigues, because you've been read this riot act. It must happen every Basic cycle, huh? The message must be conveyed. After that, we could go starched-up, but just don't get caught worrying about ruining your look. Just dive into the mud hole then they say “jump!”

       Clothes make the fighting man. Movie critics once mentioned that there was a distinct difference between James Bonds. Said one, “Sean Connery, when all dressed up, looked like he couldn't wait to get dirty. Roger Moore when all dressed up, looked like he couldn't stand to get dirty.” What a great analogy.

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     If my old drill sergeant had heard that line, he no doubt would have yelled that in my muddy face.

     “Whooo are you, boy? Sean Connery or Roger Moore?"

     “Sean Connery, Drill Sergeant.”

     “Whhhooo? I can't hear you! You prissy little, misbegotten excrement from a house-mouse whore!”

    “SEAN CONN…” …you know the routine.

      It was a lesson I never did forget. And it has merit. It is inspirational and gets your head on straight as you step out the door to go to work. But the lesson doesn't always fit the organization. Even in the military.

      Soon after Basic Training, after the military police academy, I was pulling garrison, (standard police patrol) military police duty and in the daytime we had to wear Class A uniforms which was worse than a thick suit and tie. Pistol belt outside the jacket, riding up your torso like a straight jacket. The clod-hopper boots. Are you roller skating in a buffalo herd? The bloused pants with the special rubber-band-thingy on your calf. And heaven forbid you were caught without your big white hat on, even when driving. The whole thing was very uncomfortable and very restrictive. And you and yours were less inclined to get those Class A's dirty too, least of all run and jump a fence in pursuit of an AWOL, etc. I could read that mind set around me. But in the night time? Ahhhh…we wore fatigues and a ball cap. You could move freely and be lighter. Lean. Mean, Agile. Hostile. You notice the psychological difference. In many bases now, the MPs wear fatigues, day and night, all seasons.

      Speaking of Bond movies, Rozin Abbas from Creative Ideas reminds us that Ian Flemming's Book-James-Bond famously distrusted any man with a Windsor knot. For him, it was too symmetrical, showing vanity and selfishness. I for one, hate bow ties. You'll never catch me in one. A bow tie is sissified little city-sicker apparatus that is a signal to be mugged, unless you are a bodyguard for Louis Farrakhan – in which case you have other psychological problems to consider.

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       I also remember a great line from the Towering Inferno. Fire chief Steve McQueen was about to enter said towering inferno and was suiting up in his fire garb, circa 1970s. A helper complained that NFL players had better survival uniforms for what they did, than fireman. McQueen said, “That's because people don't pay to watch us play.” They don't and it is up to us to do the best we can.

      Comfort and practicality is pretty important in your survival wardrobe continuum. I am in awe at what police officers wear today. All the gear, atop the vest too, for the working patrol officer. When I started we had almost nothing on our gun belts. In Texas in the 70s, we had a revolver and some bullet loops. If we had a radio it went in one back pocket and a sap went in the other. A pair of cuffs hooked over the belt in the back. Bullet proof vests were about $10,000 each back then. In my last few years back in patrol before I retired, Admin kept handing me more and more gear for the belt and I turned it down if I could, opting for a lighter version of me. Some of these guys and gals today look like they think they'll be dropped into Cambodia for about a week. Especially SWAT teams – who often look like they're ready for a space walk on a hostile planet. Modern soldiers suffer the same, or actually worse, because they are indeed dropped into the “Cambodias” of the world for a week or way more.

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     Shoes are also important. The lighter the better if you are going to run, chase and jump, etc. In a worst case scenario, survival experts suggest you wear good running shoes when flying, since most crashes occur on or near the ground – you might have to flee from the crash.

      If I were a police or military commander one of my major concerns would be outfitting my troops for their maximum comfort, performance and safety. Sometimes, as with the military the choices are mighty slim. Slim as in limited. I have come to believe that generally, if you are in the action-guy, or action-gal business, you should wear loose and durable, yet soft clothes, with good. light shoes on your job (unless you are akin to a knight in shining armor.) But first, always answer the following questions as a guideline.

 The who, what, where, when, how and why Survival Wardrobe Continuumchecklist:

  • Who are you to wear these clothes? Are they really needed and appropriate? REALLY?
  • What are you doing while you are wearing these clothes – your mission, big mission and small? 
  • What do you wear when training? Do you train/work-out in clothes and gear that you will be fighting in?
  • Where are you wearing these clothes? Desert? Jungle? Alps? Office? Court – tennis or trial?
  • When are you wearing these clothes? Winter? Spring? Daytime? Night?
  • How will you wear them – too tight? Too loose? How well can you move within your clothes? How much do you weigh and how healthy are you anyway? Clothes "do make the man or lady," but they can't prevent diabetes and heart attacks.

And one shouldn't care if one gets these clothes damaged or dirty, or my drill sergeant will come and get cha, and I swear…it won't be purty. No sir! Not purty al all!

 

Hock's Email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com

 

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