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Oct 26, 2013

Stars and Stripes| by Jennifer Hlad

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The Marine Corps Uniform Board has pulled its survey of options for a gender-neutral dress and service cover after widespread negative reaction to one of the options, which has been slammed as “girly” and “appalling.”

On Thursday, several news outlets published stories  asserting that President Obama was trying to emasculate male Marines by forcing a change to their dress and service covers, and incorrectly wrote that men and women in the Marine Corps currently wear the same style of cover.

It all stemmed from a survey to active and Reserve Marines about the best option for a universal cover — a cap that would be worn by men and women. The manufacturer of the women’s “bucket cover” — which has a distinctly different shape than the men’s cover — is going out of business and will not continue to make the cap, according to the Marine Corps.

Additionally, Marine Corps and other services have been asked by the DoD to find a unisex option for a dress and service cover as a cost-saving measure, Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Neil Murphy said.

However, Murphy said Friday, “Confusion caused by the survey’s release outside the Marine Corps, and exacerbated by recent rumors in the media, compelled the board to pull the survey.”

“While there was never any desire or intent to change the male Marine dress cover, the feedback we have received has been heard, loud and clear,” Murphy said.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has asked the Navy and Marine Corps to look at moving to one cover for men and women.

“The secretary believes that when you look at a group of sailors and Marines, you should see a group of sailors and Marines, indistinguishable by uniform,” said Cmdr. Tamra Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Mabus.

The Marine Corps Uniform Board had sent out the surveys in advance of its meeting next week. It asked whether Marines believe women should adopt the current male cover, with some small modifications, or for all Marines to adopt what they call the Dan Daly cap.

Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient who yelled, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” as he led Marines into the fight at Belleau Wood during World War I, wore a cap similar to the option proposed by the survey, as did other Marines in the early 1900s. The current male Marine dress cover was adopted in 1922.

Still, Marines say the Daly cover was added to the survey as a throwaway option.

“The Marine Corps commandant had and has zero intention of changing the male cover,” Marine officials said.

Female Marines who march in ceremonies at Marine Barracks Washington — the home of Commandant Gen. James Amos and the Marine Corps’ ceremonial units — began wearing the male cover in April, and wore it throughout the parade season, said Capt. Jack Norton, spokesman for the barracks. The commander of the barracks will meet with the uniform board as part of the decision-making process.

The Marine Corps Uniform Board also planned to use the surveys to formulate a recommendation, though Amos must approve any uniform board recommendation before it takes effect.

The Navy in May surveyed 16,000 female sailors about their uniforms — everything from pocket placement to buttons — and the results of that survey are expected later this year.

Female midshipmen at the Naval Academy, as well as women in several Navy bands, have also wear-tested the male covers, Lawrence said. Feedback from the Naval Academy has been largely positive, she said, while feedback from the fleet regarding any changes to the cover have been mostly negative.

The male Marine cap would require some improvements before it could be rolled out to all female Marines, a process that could take about two years. The Daly cap would take less time to issue Corps-wide, but would cost the Marine Corps more money and cause the male clothing allowance and male seabag price to increase, Marines said.

Marines also made clear that President Obama was not behind the potential change.

“The president in no way, shape or form directed the Marine Corps to change our uniform cover,” Marines said in a written statement. “We are looking for a new cover for our female Marines for one overriding reason: The former manufacturer went out of business.”

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