Having recently returned from Iraq, I found out that the new service uniforms are finally available at the Navy Exchange (NEX) Uniform Shop. These new uniforms are designed to replace the office working whites (the “ice cream man” uniform) and the working blues (the “Johnny Cash” uniform). For those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s almost like the Marine Corps office uniform: khaki shirt, black pants, black garrison cap, collar rank insignia, etc.
I like the idea of not having to sew on the rank patches anymore; that could get pretty expensive, especially if you change rates. And having one uniform for the whole year is a nice idea; I never understood why we had to have two different uniforms when you can just wear a coat.
However, I noticed that with the new uniform change the Uniform Shop is certainly taking advantage of the captive audience. A uniform item that also changed is the light office coat. Previously, it was a collared coat with rank insignia on the collars. Now, the new coat has an elastic collar with no place to put rank devices; you have to put the rank devices on epulets, just like the officers and Chiefs. Not only does this make it more difficult to tell whether a person is a “special” rank from a distance now, but it means you can’t wear the old, perfectly good jacket anymore.
The new jacket costs $82 at the Uniform Shop. That’s just outrageous. It’s not high quality (like everything else in the military), it’s not thick (insulated with polyster), and it’s not particularly fashionable (it looks vaguely like the “Member’s Only” jacket from the ’80s). There is no way it’s worth $80, especially when the military buys in bulk. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth paying more than $45 for, which is still somewhat expensive.
Of course, that’s not the only way the NEX overcharges. The shirt and pants together are nearly $60; again, they are just polyster blends. Why do they cost so much? Of course, you can’t use any of the uniform items you already have, like your old black web belts, working blue pants, etc. You have to buy all new stuff.
The new PT uniforms are a joke also. They are 100% polyster, just like Under Armor, Nike, and other athletic apparel. Yet they are made by a “no-name” company and have exotic care instructions, e.g. wash separately, that you simply don’t have to do with Under Armor clothes. To add insult to injury, the PT uniform was recalled once due to failure; I don’t know the details but I believe the seams ripped out during wash. Or it could be the fact that the reflective markings peeled off the shirt. How come the Navy couldn’t just go to Under Armor, Nike, et al. and have them design a new PT uniform? Why do they always have to buy from unknown companies that charge too much and produce crap.
Speaking of crap, I have yet to find Navy uniform pants that fit like they are supposed to. Since losing weight in Iraq, I find my civilian clothes don’t fit me anymore. Most of my pants and shorts are size 34 but they are falling off me; I have to wear a belt nearly all the time so I figure I’m about a size 32 now (I haven’t bought new clothes since I came back because I’m cheap). However, trying on the new uniform pants I found there is no way I could fit into a size 32 or 33. I have to buy a 35 or 36 to be able to button them.
The same thing happened when I was wearing a size 34; I would have buy 2-3 sizes larger in my uniforms because they were never cut the way they are supposed to. I have talked to many other Sailors who complain about the same thing so I know I’m not just an oddity.
Oh, one more gripe. Why do nearly all of the uniform pants requiring hemming? The only ones that don’t are the utilities (replacements to the old dungarees) and the cammies. Those are all like “normal” pants; you find the right size and walk out the door with them. The working and dress uniforms are all left unhemmed so when you buy them, you have to wait 2 days to actually take them home because you have to wait for them to be hemmed. So, if you desparately need a new uniform, e.g. you ripped your old ones or stained them, you’re out of luck for a few days. The sad thing is that if you go off base, you can usually get a faster turnaround. The only advantage to letting the Uniform Shop do the hemming is that it’s free, but only because they are obligated to not charge for hemming.
A final gripe I have about the NEX Uniform Shop is that the hours are a joke. Depending on location, it usually opens around 9am and closes around 7pm. Now, the Navy is a 24-hour organization, with Sailors having to stand duty every few days for a 24-hour shift. Why isn’t the NEX also required to stay open 24-hours? I can’t count the number of times that I or someone I knew needed a uniform item before going to work for the day, e.g. a belt, a hat, a replacement pair of pants, etc. but the NEX doesn’t open until we’ve already been at work for 3 hours.
For something that supports the military, common sense says that it should be open at least during the normal times that the Sailors are working, preferably before the normal work day starts, i.e. no later than 6am. Opening up mid-morning is simply stupid and inexcusable. But of course, the NEX is a private corporation that isn’t under the direct control of the Navy so they can do pretty much whatever they want, and charge whatever they want, with minimal oversight.
Sure, we get a uniform allowance every year but it’s still not right to over-charge for uniform items. Heck, that’s probably why they over-charge; they know that it’s not “real” money they are taking from us, it’s just “free” money that the government gives us anyways.