A few weeks ago a Generous Reader sent me a couple of pairs of surplus woodland BDUs, in excellent condition. One of them made me chuckle when I first saw them, but it came out of the closet for the first time this morning and I stopped chuckling…
There’s something about the sight of a uniform item made for combat but expertly ironed and starched into boardlike stiffness that seems really incongruous to me, even though there’s nothing new about it – in fact I first encountered it when I was a little kid. But since then the Army went to dressing everybody in camo whether or not they ever expected to hide behind a tree, and it just seems to have extra incongruity points somehow.
In case you ever wonder, old BDUs are perfect hot weather boonie clothes. It takes years to wear them out under heavy use, woodland pattern works well for those rare but real times when your day suddenly turns into a hunting trip, you never have to worry about whether the belt loops will accommodate your chandelier’o’gear, and they’re just darned comfortable no matter what you’re doing. Or normally they are. Right now I’m sitting here thinking maybe I should give these a wash to get some of the starch out first.
Nobody’s said it to my face for going on forty years but I imagine some people look at all the surplus I surround myself with and conclude that old Uncle Joel enjoys playing army. Almost literally nothing could be farther from the truth – back in the very early ’70’s the Army was my biggest worry because there was a war on and not many people I knew were enlisting to fight in it. I still wore surplus, even then, because then as now OD Green was my favorite color. But I did occasionally surrender to Sharpie-related impulses.
It’s not that I knock “service,” or “patriotism” – I have always had a complicated relationship with patriotism* – it’s just that I could never thrive and might not survive in such a seriously regimented environment. Take marching, for example – I once seriously ran into a militia group where a couple of the people in charge wanted to train on marching. Their reaction to my impulsive laughter gave me notice that this group and I weren’t going to work out. But that’s the nice thing about militia: As long as the shooting hasn’t started, you can just quit. Can’t really picture me doing well in an actual army, and it would take Japanese amphibious craft on the beaches of Oregon** to make me voluntarily try.
Anyway, I got all blowed up in early 1972, which taught me the most important (and too often the last) lesson a young man can learn, and which also had the side-benefit of ending my worries about getting drafted. My draft-related worries about prison were eventually resolved***. But I still like a lot of the gear, because it’s cheap and useful even when it’s not always an improvement over the fancy stuff the threepers like to accumulate. And in particular I’m very fond of old-pattern BDUs. Can’t say I’m likely to get used to starch real soon, though.
These are just a few of the rambling thoughts I shared with my coffee this morning, inspired by a pair of heavily-starched pants.
*Just as an example, I personally believe that “My Country, Right or Wrong” is one of the most unpatriotic slogans I’ve ever heard. For more information see Oathkeepers.
**The Japanese could have California. They could only improve California, but I’d be there to fight them at the Nevada border.
***The Selective Service actually did catch up with me in the late ‘seventies, but I suffered no harm beyond disapproving frowns on the faces of large uniformed men. By then they’d stopped throwing draft-dodgers into federal prison, and even to these guys the act of prosecuting a one-legged kid for failure to register was a sufficiently blatant waste of resources as to be a non-starter. So that worry went away. Got a severe talking to, though.