Many Marines working in the Pentagon are now allowed to wear their camouflage uniforms, rather than their more formal — and more expensive — service uniforms.
A December 2022 memo from Lt. Gen. Gregg Olson, the director of staff for the Marine Corps, changed the uniform of the day from the khaki service uniform to the woodland-green camouflage combat utility uniform, effective Sunday.
“The overall intent of the updated uniform guidance is to reduce the financial burden for our junior officer and enlisted Marines dry cleaning and uniform costs due to daily wear of service ‘B’ or ‘C’ uniform,” Olson’s memo states.
The long-sleeved “B” uniform is designated for the winter months and the short-sleeved “C” uniform for the summer months.
The Pentagon is home to the Marine Corps headquarters, where top Marine leaders and several supporting agencies have their offices.
The previous rule dictating that Marines wear service uniforms in the Pentagon dates to summer 2020. That guidance went into effect for both Marines and sailors on July 6, 2020. They previously had worn their cammies except on Fridays.
Ed Zeigler, a spokesman for Naval District Washington, told Military.com at the time, “We aligned the Navy-Marine Corps uniform policies in the National Capital Region and the Pentagon Reservation to demonstrate a unified, professional image of our integrated Naval Force.”
The 2020 change came less than a month after Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized for appearing in a photo op, in his camouflage combat uniform, with then-President Donald Trump following a quashed Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Washington.
One commentator in The Hill argued that summer that cammies were inappropriate for any troops in the Pentagon: “Let us save the battle dress uniforms for actual combat.”
Marines who work in front offices or regularly interact with top leaders still have to wear the more formal service uniform. Even those who work in back offices are expected to wear the service uniform for meetings with top officers. And all Pentagon Marines have to wear their service uniforms on Fridays, per Olson’s memo, in line with the rest of the force.
By Tuesday and Wednesday, the first days back in the office after the New Year’s Day rule change, Marines already were milling around the food court and strolling the labyrinthine Pentagon hallways in their cammies.
“Financially, it was a huge relief, because cammies are more affordable,” said Sgt. Anthony Marrocco, who works at the judge advocate general office at the Pentagon. “It was really popular, at least for me, being a sergeant, because funds are a little tighter when compared to (for instance) gunnies.”
The service uniforms require dry cleaning, so they are costlier to maintain than camouflage uniforms, which simply can be thrown into a laundry machine. At the Pentagon dry cleaner, it costs $9 to clean the shirt and trousers of a single service uniform. For a Marine who dry cleans just one service uniform a week, it would add up to $468 a year.
Active-duty enlisted Marines with more than three years’ service do receive $738.84 cash allowances each year to spend on their uniforms, according to Corps guidance from October 2022. Those with less than three years’ service get $517.32. They also get a one-time clothing issue upon enlistment.
But a 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office estimated that enlisted service members still had to pay significant sums out of pocket on their uniforms.
Marrocco, who has worked at the Pentagon since Nov. 28, 2022, said he spent approximately $500 to buy two shirts and a coat for his service uniform and to tailor his shirts and trousers in preparation for his role.
In addition to being lower cost, cammies generally are considered to be more comfortable than service uniforms.
“My favorite uniform is the cammies,” Marrocco said, noting that the change seems good for morale. “When hot weather rolls around, we’re going to be sleeves up.”
He added that the service uniform comes in heavier fabric, and its khaki color makes even a little bit of sweat conspicuous.
Marines wearing service uniform trousers typically wear shirt stays on their legs to yank their hems down, whereas the camouflage shirt goes untucked. The shiny corfram shoes that usually accompany the service uniform are more rigid, and require more upkeep, than the combat utility boots.
And replacing broken shirt stays and scuffed corframs can pile on more costs to upkeep of service uniforms, according to Marrocco.
Cammies aren’t the default uniform for all Marines: Drill instructors, recruiters and Marines in ceremonial roles typically wear more formal uniforms like service uniforms or dress blues. Marines, unlike service members in other branches, aren’t allowed to wear cammies in civilian settings.
Even after the rules changed in 2020 for Department of the Navy service members, most soldiers, airmen and guardians wore their camouflage uniforms in the Pentagon.
The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps authorized camouflage in the Pentagon in 2001, following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. The Navy followed in 2019, only to roll back that change the following year.
The Navy hasn’t changed its uniform of the day guidance, a Navy spokesperson confirmed, so most sailors in the Pentagon are still in solid khaki rather than camouflage.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.