After more than eleven years serving in the U.S. Army National Guard and I’m still struggling with uniform issues.I began my career during the end of the BDUs (pants and tops in the camouflage green pattern, black boots), and soft cotton sweats for physical training. After a few years, the Army transitioned to the current digital grey pattern (Army Combat Uniform or ACU) with some upgrades to the trousers and blouse. These included a zipper close on the top instead of a row of buttons, pockets galore to even include a pocket on the bottom left sleeve for writing utensils.
But they also included velcro. Velcro tabs to hold the top’s flap closed, velcro on ALL the pockets, velcro for all the interchangeable name tapes and rank. The boots changed from black to desert tan which signaled the end of spending hours each evening shining boots. (I often wondered what the Drill Sergeants replaced that discipline skill with in Basic Combat Training.)
Uniform changes to meet the current battlefield is all well and good. But only recently have the uniform creators for the Army recognized that as of 2013 16% of the force is made up of female Soldiers and finally created a whole new uniform designed for the different shape of our bodies than that of a 20-year-old boy. The new uniforms are called ACU-A or Army Combat Uniform – Alternate. Great! Better fitting uniforms.
So why then does it seem the maternity ACUs have gone backward in functionality?
I’ve done everything I can in my first 6 months of pregnancy to avoid needing to wear the maternity uniform – the rubber band trick, t-shirt over the top of the pants instead of tucked in (don’t tell anyone though, that’s not within regulation!), wearing my husband’s larger size ACU pants, and numerous other attempts to keep wearing the same ACUs as my comrades.
Why am I so opposed to the maternity ACUs?
They look maternal. They lack functionality. It seems as though pregnant women serving in our Army are supposed to sit, do nothing and keep quiet. I’m sure that isn’t true. It’s how I perceive the lack of functionality. But allow me to present the evidence, then you be the judge.
Number of Pockets on the Blouse
- Regular ACUs – Four velcro closure pockets plus writing utensil pocket on left sleeve (One each shoulder, left front and right front)
- Maternity ACUs – Two button closed pockets on the stomach area on the front
Number of Pockets on the Trousers
- Regular ACUs – Eight total-two back pockets, two waist pockets, two outside leg (cargo) pockets, two lower leg pockets
- Maternity ACUs – Two tiny outside leg pockets, really the same size as the lower leg pockets on the regular ACU
Fit and Cut of Blouse and Trousers
- Regular ACUs – Standard, one size fits all boxy cut. No need for tight fitting uniforms to show off any assets…easy to blend in with all other Soldiers
- Maternity ACUs – The blouse has expandable buttons on the sides to tighten around the growing pregnant belly or loosen. The cut is essentially a bell shape accentuating the pregnancy. The trousers are tighter fitting in the legs than the regular ACUs and sport a solid colored grey stomach panel of cotton with an elastic top that goes over the belly.
I’ve maintained a high level of military bearing and discipline throughout my career. I’m a stickler for uniformity and adhering to the standards set forth in black and white for us. I’ve never complained that the XS size body armor was still too large for my frame, do not raise hell that I have to add every pad that comes with the Kevlar helmet to the inside of it so it fits well and doesn’t fall over my eyes, or gotten on a soap box about the incredibly unflattering and uncomfortable physical fitness uniform we currently sport (cotton t-shirts?! how about some moisture-wicking fabric for those of us who enjoy working up a sweat). But I am clearly taking issue with a uniform that removes almost all the pockets and looks like something from Motherhood Maternity stores.
You see, I’m a Photojournalist in the Army. This means I have at least one notebook on my person at all times. That notebook can fit in one of the lower pants pockets. I carry a wallet in the other. Anytime I go indoors, my patrol cap gets neatly folded and goes into my right cargo pocket on my pants leg. Keys for the office and Chapstick fit neatly into the waist pockets. I carry THREE WRITING UTENSILS! Where am I supposed to put those now?! If I’m heading out to do an interview and a photographs I use the pockets on my sleeve for a voice recorder and business cards. The left cargo pocket can double as a quick access holder for a separate camera lens and/or flash.
You see, after more than 11 years I’ve honed my system to a functionality that works for me. But alas, now that I’m seven months pregnant and will be wearing the uniform day in, day out, I’ll just have to adjust. I’ll have to find new pockets, or create them somehow. I may have to carry an authorized black bag (purse in civilian lingo) for the first time in my career. I’ll have to accept the fact that I currently do not blend in and look like the rest of the fit, thin, well-dressed Soldiers around me. This also means I am forced to accept the extra attention that comes with being visibly pregnant. That’s one thing to contend with in the civilian world wearing civilian clothes – it’s a whole other issue when wearing the uniform of- and serving in our armed forces. Especially for this very introverted, private person.
Honestly though, no matter how uncomfortable I am with the clothing and lack of functionality and what kind of statement it makes to me – I wouldn’t trade actively serving for any style of blouse and trousers. Keep on keeping on. Hooah!