Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Humor on Uniforms

Sometime ago  I heard a young Army Officer commenting that the increasing colour on camouflage dress – especially by senior officers – was defeating the very purpose of camouflage.

This reminded me of a spoof I had written sometime back titled “Peacocks” in Uniform 

Dear Reader: 

Here is the spoof, once more, for you to read, have a laugh and ponder over...

A Fictional Spoof

Almost 3 years ago  in January 2015  I was invited to deliver a guest lecture” at IAT Pune (now renamed DIAT/MILIT) – a prestigious inter-service training institution.

I was delighted to meet a Commodore  with whom I had served earlier  and who was once a student of mine – at this very same institution – 33 years ago  in the mid 1980s.

He was wearing Navy Blue Combat Uniform (Dress No. 10)  instead of the customary Navy Whites (Uniform No. 8/8A)  which we normally wore at IAT during our time.

This wearing of combat dress was quite strange  since IAT Pune was an academic training institution  far removed from combat.

Probably  the only combat that we had seen in IAT were the “ego battles” between defence officers and civilian scientists – and the internecine turf wars between the 3 wings of the defence services.

I looked at the Commodore in blue combat uniform. 

Something seemed odd.

I was startled to see jarring golden stars on his collars.

I had never seen commissioned Naval Officers wear collar tabs.

(Long ago  till the late 1970 in the Navy – Master Chief Petty Officers (MCPOs) wore collar insignia – which were subsequently changed to shoulder tabs).

I was  therefore  quite surprised to see the flashy oversized golden collar tabs  which looked garish and totally incongruous on naval uniform.

In fact  these ostentatious golden collar stars looked most ridiculous and gaudy on blue combat uniform.

When I asked the Commodore about this new piece of jazzy collar accoutrement  he said that golden collar stars for Commodores and Admirals had been recently introduced on the First of January 2015 (01 Jan 2015).

I was happy to note that the LAW OF TRIVIALITY was still very much in action in the Defence Services. 

Instead of tackling urgent complex operational, material, technological, systemic and human resource problems faced by the Defence Services – or – instead of resolving issues pertaining to Military Veterans like OROP (One Rank One Pension) and ECHS Healthcare etc  the Defence “Top Brass” were devoting their energies to trivial issues like embellishing uniforms with “stars” to show off their ranks. 

Yes – isn’t it amusing...? 

Instead of tackling the Urgent and Important Complex Operational Problems, Equipment Obsolescence and Human Resource Issues faced by the Defence Services – I wondered why the Military “Top Brass” was focusing on “Fashion Design”...? 

The “Top Brass seemed to be devoting their energies to Trivial Issues like Embellishing, Decorating and adding “Colour to Military Uniforms with all types of decorative insignia” “stars” “badges” “tabs” “emblems” and gaudy colourful accoutrements to show off their ranks – just like “peacocks” show off their plumage.

(If you have been following the news  you will know that there is a great obsession with “stars” in the Army  with Generals displaying their “stars” at the most imaginative places – and it looks like this “star virus” has affected the Navy too).

Since independence – if anything has changed the most in the defence services – it is military uniforms.

Yes – the “ornamental” and showy uniforms the defence services wear today bear little resemblance to the simple military-like uniforms of the 1950s.

This increasing penchant for frequently changing uniforms and enhancing ornamentation of military regalia (by introducing new badges/accoutrements/adornments etc) bears testimony to the fact that “The Law of Triviality” is proliferating in the Armed Forces.

I have discussed The Law of Triviality earlier in my blog and I have given the link to the article at the end of this article.

Now – let us talk a bit about “Peacocks in Uniform.

A few days ago – a veteran army officer remarked that today’s uniforms look most peacockish

This prompted me to delve into my Humor in Uniform archives and pull out this article on FRIDAY DRESSING which I had written more than three years ago – on 13 June 2014.


During my visit to IAT Pune – I saw Colonel “X” – all decked up – in his “combat uniform” 

I remembered a story from CATCH-22 – the all time classic satirical war novel by Joseph Heller.

A memorandum on “appropriate military attire in combat areas” is issued by General Peckem (who is in charge of “Special Services” which includes everything except combat). 

Yes – General Peckem is in charge of “Special Services”. 

“Special Services” include everything except Combat – maybe the Army feels that there is nothing “Special” about warfighting and combat. 

S– Combat is considered a “General Service”.

General Peckem recommends that all aircrew be sent into combat in full-dress ceremonial uniform – so that they will make a good impression on the enemy when they are shot down. 

Now – coming back to my story – when I saw Colonel “X” who looked like a riot of colour in his dazzling camouflage “combat uniform” – with his red and gold collar tabs  rows of colourful medal ribbons – numerous gaudy badges and emblems of all sizes and shapes adorning both sides of his chest and arms  accoutrements and ornamental regalia embellishing the impressive fabric imprinted with attractive camouflage design – it seemed to be more of a fashionable ceremonial uniform – rather than a simple utilitarian combat uniform.

All “decked up in his “combat uniform” – Colonel “X” looked like a Peacock.

“Why are you wearing such a flashy uniform...?” I asked Colonel “X”.

“This is our “combat uniform”...” Colonel “X” said.

“I know that camouflage dress your combat uniform – but why you wearing this uniform in an tri-service-cum-civilian training institution like IAT – there is no combat going on here – except the perpetual “combat” between Uniformed Service Officers and Civilian Scientists...” I quipped.

“We have to wear combat dress on Fridays...” Colonel “X” said.

“Oh – so it is like the “Friday Dressing” they have in the corporate sector...” I said.

Earlier  in some offices like Naval Headquarters (NHQ) and inter-service establishments  we had a “Mufti Day” on Fridays  where you could wear civvies (civilian clothes) to office on Fridays.

We used to dress casually  and wear open collar tucked-in shirts  or tucked-out bush shirts – or safari suits – and feel relaxed.

I believe that later some “killjoy” Admiral (like General Peckem of Catch-22) – he made wearing of neckties compulsory – and he destroyed the “casual” joy of Friday dressing.

To get back to the subject of combat uniform  I remember that in the Navy we had a simple combat uniform called Dress No. 10 – comprising sober looking greyish-khaki coloured shirt and trousers made of cotton.

In order to ensure that the uniform was fire-resistant and non-inflammable  there were no synthetic or metallic accoutrements – no ribbons, no badges, no belt, even no name tallies (the names and action stations were written by black marking ink on the cotton fabric).

Sometime in the 1980’s – this simple and most apt Khaki coloured pure cotton uniform  suitable for the tropics  was changed to blue colour – light blue shirt and navy blue trouser (maybe to imitate the Royal Navy).

I remember a hilarious episode when our ship returned from a long operational deployment  and everyone on our ship was dressed in Khaki No. 10’s.

Sailors on most alongside ships and shore establishments were dressed in the new Blue No. 10’s  about which we did not have a clue.

We were rudely told that we were “out of rig” – and we were asked to get the new pattern Blue No. 10 uniforms stitched fast.

Soon  everyone started using terry-cot fabric instead of pure cotton  and then  accouterments like name tallies, medal ribbons, badges and emblems, blue belts made of synthetic material and metallic crested buckles were added. 

The result was that the uniform was no longer fire resistant and neither was it non-inflammable.

Soon  everyone started wearing this blue uniform everywhere instead of white No. 8/8A – probably because blue uniform was easier to maintain than white uniform – which had to be washed daily.

The earlier Khaki Cotton No. 10 Uniform was worn only while working on ships (below decks). 

But now  the new blue terry-cot/polyester uniform is worn both afloat (on upperdecks) – and ashore too – even in comfortable offices in Headquarters and Stone Frigates (Shore Based Naval Organisations).

Someone told me  that like they do in the Army  you now have “Friday Dressing” in the NHQ at New Delhi too – with sailors trying to outdo the pongos in wearing “ceremonial combat uniform”.

It won’t be long before the Air Force joins the bandwagon of “Friday Dressing” too (unless they already have)

By the way  the Indian Air Force too used to wear Khaki uniform till the 1980’s  and then they changed over to Blue  maybe to imitate the RAF.

Can some Military Veteran please enlighten us:

What is the need for “ceremonial combat uniform...?

Shouldn’t combat uniforms be combat-worthy...? 

Doesn’t so much of colour” on camouflage uniform defeat the very purpose of camouflage dress...? 

Why is there an increasing tendency to “show off” with so much regalia on daily wear working uniforms...?

Why not keep uniforms simple like the Navy Dress No. 8 (white half-sleeved shirt and shorts without any medal ribbons, badges, emblems and paraphernalia)...?

Shouldn’t Military Uniforms have “utility value” rather than “ornamental value”...?

Instead of looking Soldierly  why do “Faujis” – especially Senior Officers  want to strut around like “Peacocks” – looking like “Peacocks” in Uniform...?

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1. This story is a fictional spoof, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This blog post is an combined abridged extract of my following blog posts posted online by me in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog:

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