The best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.
Many adjectives describe the Marine Corps. How about this one: complete. The Marines are in the middle of a program of extensive testing for something that may seem simple: a new training uniform. Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with 19th Marine Corps Sergeant Major Troy E. Black.
Tom Temin: Sgt. Major Black is delighted to have you.
Troy Black: Yes. Hello. Thanks a lot for the invitation. I appreciate it.
Tom Temin: And the training uniform, which doesn’t change very often, does it? I mean, every generation kind of has their own version, is that a good way to describe it?
Troy Black: Not really in the Marine Corps, I’ll tell you, we haven’t had a, I would say a new physical training uniform, since the early ’90s. So it’s been, I’ll call it several generations, you know, the slower change in the Marine Corps, sometimes for the right things, but sometimes it’s just the right thing to do.
Tom Temin: Sure. So what are you looking for in a new workout? First of all, how is the training uniform used? Is it just for basic training? Or is it something you could use for general education throughout a career?
Troy Black: Well, a combination of the two. You know, our current uniform, simple as it is, is not very modernized. The materials are not modernized, they are adapted to the form, not really modernized. And we’re trying to do a few things here. We have an independent physical training uniform. We don’t necessarily have that now, the current uniform is part of another uniform or a marine uniform or a camouflage uniform. It was a self-contained uniform. And the reason for the change is that the fabrics have changed over time, you can even see in professional athletes, what they train in, is not necessarily a cotton shirt with canvas underpants. And we also have requirements to make sure we’re safe. So the reflective materials in that stuff that is not part of the current uniform will not be part of that uniform. Instead of wearing like an extra reflective belt or vest or that sort of thing.
Tom Temin: Yes you are right, fabrics have come a long way, even in the last 10 years, in the way they are able to weave polyester. And I speak from experience here. The problem is, or one of the problems, that most of the high-end workout gear isn’t made in the United States. Much of it is made in the Philippines or China, and so on. So there’s an acquisition issue related to that as well, isn’t there?
Troy Black: It might be. You know, obviously, there are certain laws that require the Department of Defense and government agencies to buy and produce things that are made in the United States, in the United States. Not a challenge here for us, nor for any of these uniforms. Heck, all Marine Corps uniforms, be it the blue uniform, the marine patterned uniform, much more intricate uniforms and materials, all produced in the United States, and it will be no different for this uniform. .
Tom Temin: Okay so you have multiple vendors competing here, what does the program look like in terms of testing? What is happening?
Troy Black: So later this month we’re going to start sending out the first one, I call that a batch of uniforms for testing and these are going to be sent to some of our entry level training pipelines to some of the instructors. , people who can return a good answer and give a good contribution on what is good, what is not, some things need to change. So this testing phase is going to start here at the end of the month and hopefully we get to a production issue process here after that over the next year or so.
Tom Temin: And you mentioned that these could also be used by people more advanced in their careers, say, someone like you, who is a career Marine, or one of the officers who comes from the academy and so right now. It’s something that older guys and girls would wear too.
Troy Black: Ah, absolutely. It will be the uniform, the physical training uniform for the Marine Corps. So that means all Marines.
Tom Temin: And what about the female Marines? What special arrangement will they have for them? Because clearly they sometimes need a different shape?
Troy Black: Well, I think that’s going to be determined during the testing phase. Everyone’s body shape, not just gender, but everyone’s body shape is not generic. So we go into the testing phase, we will have both men and women wearing the uniform and they will give good feedback on it. There will also be what I would call, and you mentioned that you were a runner, a marathoner, the general uniform will be a standard shirt. Obviously, the size and how it fits individuals will be part of the testing process, but the shorts will be more general purpose shorts. There will also be, at the request of part of the original design, optional runner shorts. Something that again, like someone like you, will be more familiar. You don’t want to run, you know, above the knee shorts, you want to have a different style so you can run. It will be an optional uniform which will also be tried and tested.
Tom Temin: We’re talking with Troy Black, he’s the 19th Marine Corps Sergeant Major. And how is the decision made as to which particular uniform will be chosen from the various vendors tested?
Troy Black: Well, ultimately there is a process like everything else. Any type of uniform item that we in the Marine Corps wish to modify, upgrade, implement, goes through a very dedicated process that is within Marine Corps Systems Command and the ‘University of the Marine Corps is the Marine Corps uniform counseling process only. Ultimately, recommendations will be made to the Marine Corps Commander and the Marine Corps Commander will be the final decision maker on which uniforms we choose.
Tom Temin: Because I was reading an article about it in one of the posts that exclusively covers the military, and what I noticed were comments made by current Marines or retirees. And some of them said, well, in my day we trained with combat fatigues and boots. Not sure whether this is true or not. But at least that’s what they said. And so I guess there are improvements in the experience of the Marine doing the training you’re looking at too, aren’t there?
Troy Black: You know our veterans are very loud. They are the reason we are here. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and our history is full of the great things that ancient Marines did. However, there are a lot of things that have changed over time. I’m sure 30 years from now there will be things about the Marine Corps that they’re going to change that I can look at and go, wow, that’s interesting. But frankly, we have a PT uniform now, we actually had a PT uniform before the current one, it was a yellow shirt and red shorts. It might also have been a challenge for some people at the time. Now we have the current uniform, which is a green general purpose trunk, it’s a green cotton shirt. And we’re just modernizing that. So I think every generation can face changes. But at the end of the day, the Marine Corps continues to train, fight and win. And that will be an element in allowing us to do better.
Tom Temin: I was thinking about what you said earlier, how better the fabrics have gotten, how more functional they are, they don’t get irritated as much, you know, and you know the chest irritations can be a huge problem in long distance races if you’re not careful. I wonder if what one learns from the training uniform testing program and feedback could translate into other uniforms.
Troy Black: Yes, I would say potentially. I guess what I would say is if you go to any training facility, or even a civilian community, or certainly bases, posts, and facilities, you will see the types of what uniforms the Marines wear, what kind of equipment they wear while they are in the gym. It’s anti-microbial, it wicks away moisture, it usually stretches for better mobility, it usually dries quickly. And very often you have bought something in the civilian market, it probably contains reflective material in order to increase its safety when you are running during periods and periods of low light. So I think all of these things are what we’re looking for and what we’re preparing to test and develop here for this new uniform.
Tom Temin: And I guess durability is an issue. One of the comments I read, again, not original, but I’m just relating it, is that they were concerned that this uniform would resist the laundering process that occurs on ships, which can, in the terms of it, comment on or destroy just about anything?
Troy Black: Maybe that’s an observation, sir. But again, it’s part of the development process to make sure the material is going to hold up for a while. There are all kinds of regulations that before approving a uniform in any of the departments, but in the Marine Corps in particular, must pass certain tests, durability obviously being one of those tests.
Tom Temin: OK. And would these be available to civilian family members if it worked?
Troy Black: Right now, what we consider to be an official Marine Corps uniform. So, like all official Marine Corps uniforms, very few of these items can be worn in a […] situation. I don’t know what the rules or regulations will be about this, but this is a Marine Corps fitness uniform.
Tom Temin: Okay, Troy Black is the 19th Marine Corps Sergeant Major. Thank you very much for joining me.
Troy Black: Hello, thank you sir and I wish you a good day.