The U.S. Army’s New, Retro, MAGA Uniform

The Army’s new uniforms are a throwback to World War II. Making the Army Great Again?

News that the Army is moving to a new, retro, uniform modeled on World War II-era designs got my military friends buzzing. Not so much about the “new” (old) uniform, but all the badges, ribbons, tabs, and related baubles and doodads that adorn US military uniforms today, a topic I’ve written about before at and here at BV.

First, the new uniform. World War II was the last “great” war America truly won, so it’s hardly surprising the Army is reaching back to the era of the “greatest generation” and the “band of brothers.” Why not tap nostalgia for that “good” war, when Americans banded together against the Nazis and the Japanese? It’s also consistent with Trump’s message about “Making America Great Again”; we can even substitute “the Army” for “America” and keep MAGA.

For Trump, this mythical “great” America seems to center on the 1950s, whereas for the Army it’s WWII and the 1940s. Still, these MAGA uniforms and hats seem to say the Army and America are currently not great, and that the path to greatness is a retrograde one, a return to the past. (That return apparently does not include a revival of the draft and America’s citizen-soldier tradition.)

But it was an image of Dwight D. Eisenhower that got my military friends buzzing. Ike led the invasion of D-Day and was the architect of victory in Europe as supreme allied commander, yet you’d never know it from his simple, almost unadorned, uniform. Consider the image below of Ike that accompanied the story in the New York Times:

A victorious Ike returns a salute

As one of my military correspondents, a retired command sergeant major who fought in the infantry in Vietnam, wrote to me:

[Ike was] A man from a cow town in Kansas, Abilene, who was a lower rung grad at West Point and came back from WW I as a Major. Twenty years later as a LTC enters WW II and comes back a Five Star General, one of only about five ever made and he has two, count them, two tiny rows of ribbons, no hero badges, not even a bolo badge to show what a great marksman he is, no para wings, no ranger tab, no CIB/EIB and FIVE, COUNT THEM, FIVE STARS on his shoulders. He also ran for, won, and was a pretty damned good [Republican president] for eight years. The Generals we have had since, starting with Westy [William Westmoreland] were all losers although they all had badges, ribbons, medals, patches all over their sorry asses BUT no VK medals, no VVN medals, no Victory Medals from any damned place I can think of. Well, maybe Grenada or Panama, or a bar fight in Columbus, GA. Home of Ft Benning… Something to think about, eh?

All those “bells and whistles” on military uniforms today “are like Vanity License Plates for one’s car,” this same command sergeant major noted. Speaking of vanity, a retired colonel told me there’s a company “that’ll miniaturize your ‘rack’ so you can wear your ribbons on your lapel–all of them–when you separate [from the military]. LOOK AT ME: I’M A HERO!”

One thing is certain: We have a ribbon- and badge-chasing military. (General David Petraeus was the worst.) People literally want to wear their “achievements” on their sleeve – or blouse – or jacket, even after they leave the military. Military members chase these baubles. They “achieve.” But what about quieter achievements that you can’t wear? How about integrity, honesty, commitment, fairness? What about intelligence? Dedication to the craft of arms that doesn’t involve getting a fancy badge like jump wings from France?

The Army’s retro-chic uniforms won’t be of any value if we keep valuing the wrong things. A Boy Scout military that keeps chasing merit badges for the sake of promotion of self is a very bad thing, irrespective of uniform design.

Yet there’s another side to all this. As my colonel-friend put it:

Here’s the real cost of this ribbon chasing. There’s an enormous number of man-hours expended on writing and chasing the paperwork to award these doodads… At a time when the military is allegedly overtaxed and burned out, why are they wasting so much effort on this nonsense? Why are some units hiring editors to keep the decorations moving? In survey after survey, AF pilots cited decorations and other administrative nonsense, not deployments, as the reason they don’t want to stay in. But since generals groom and promote only those who think like them (having selected them when they were captains), nothing changes. “You have to take care of your people,” they say, and if you listen to E-9s [the senior enlisted] people are happiest when they get doodads.

As another close military friend put it: “And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous number of ribbons and badges today. A captain today will have as many ribbons as a circa-1944 two-star [general]. [In their new retro uniforms,] they’ll just look like extras in a war movie.”

In sum, a jury of my peers has come back with a verdict on the Army’s new retro uniform: Love the look, but can you please bring back as well the humble citizen-soldiers of Ike’s era, the ones who won wars without all the gratuitous self-promotion?

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

12 thoughts on “The U.S. Army’s New, Retro, MAGA Uniform”

  1. What an anti-American (oops, I mean “war” *wink wink*) limp wristed Flaming Liberal thinks means nothing.

    1. You have earned a maga participant ribbon….send $130,000 to to receive yours today

  2. A retired USAF LTC panning US Army culture. That is rich. The USAF has been trying to be as un-military as possible since they stopped wearing Army uniforms and being actual soldiers.

    1. Worked as a USAF aircraft mechanic. The USAF follows more of a corporate structure because it fits the branch better. It’s not necessarily un-military, it’s just less grunt-oriented because the foundation is planes, not riflemen. I agree this LTC is too liberal in his assessment of the uniform, but I also agree about the medals. I don’t really give a damn about your girl scout merit badges. I care that you can do your job. And I do think the Army is guilty of handing out self-esteem medals and promotions like they’re candy. Hell the USAF should cut back on medals or at least orient them to having actually done your job.

  3. Medal and ribbon inflation has been going on for a long time. For some reason, I received the Southwest Asia Service Medal three times, for one tour (Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, operations after Desert Storm). Three medals for less than six months, all on one trip. Then they threw in the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, and a Joint Meritorious Unit Citation, all for the exact same activity. And they brought back the National Defense Medal and handed it out to everyone who got all the above medals. So, seven medals for six months of active duty doing one thing.

    I ran into a guy at an airport one time (post 9/11). He was an Army E-2, just out of boot camp and on his way to his occupational school. He already had three Army Achievement Medals. When I asked him about them, he said they gave one to every soldier in his platoon just for being there, and he “won” the other two by placing in the top 5 on his boot camp physical fitness tests. He already had the good sense to be embarrassed about that.

  4. Back during the Gulf War, they started authorizing the National Defense Service medal to all service members and they still do. At least they didn’t actually “award” it to you. If you wanted the actual medal, you had to go to the PX and buy it. I never brought it because it meant nothing unless it’s a medal you earned and were awarded. Had to buy the ribbon though because if you didn’t have it you were out of uniform. A starter medal… ridiculous!

  5. From the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. Oh, and wasn’t ww2 when we colluded with Russia ?

  6. FYI these uniforms we’re being feilded tested and were approved during the Obama Admin. It takes years for them to be rolled out. It’s garbage “reporting” like this that assures Trump gets elected. Being crazy of the left is far more damaging for our country than MAGA.

  7. As a retired LTC, you know a massive change in uniforms is years in the making, looong before the current President came into office. Yet you still manage to link the two together?

    You used to freelance for the Onion and Duffle Blog didn’t you?

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