U.S. Marine recruits held their issued black socks up in the air as they begin boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
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Female Marines were given permission to use umbrellas back in 1972. Officials couldn’t say why the rules changed for women but not men, though some guessed it came down to men wanting to appear rugged and stoic.
Since then, six efforts to grant men the same precipitation protection have been proposed. All were shot down along the way, said Mary Boyt, program manager for the Marine Corps Uniform Board, the official gatekeepers for any changes.
A recent survey of Marines found that 76% of men and 94% of women said umbrellas should be allowed, Ms. Boyt said. “I can’t tell you why it got approved this time around,” she added, but many said they supported it not necessarily to help soggy Marines but to preserve their natty uniforms.
Marines looking for rain protection can in most situations turn to a trench coat derisively known as the Inspector Gadget, for its resemblance to one worn by the bumbling 1980s cartoon detective. Many won’t wear the coat, even in rain, and promptly lose it after it is issued.
The umbrella rule change came just days before the Marine Corps’ birthday on Nov. 10, the holiest day on the Corps’ calendar.
On Friday night in Chicago, hundreds of Jarheads gathered at the Old Crow Smokehouse near Wrigley Field for an early birthday ball celebration.
“We should have umbrellas. It’s common sense,” said Cpl. Jose Hernandez, a reservist decked out in dress blues and gleaming ribbons, who said he’d rather get rained on than wear the standard-issue trench coat. “To be honest, the Inspector Gadget is pretty ugly.”
As he laid out his reasoning, Lance Cpl. Dylan Mendoza broke in.
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“What if you need both hands?” he asked, turning to the corporal then waving one hand around wildly. His other hand remained stock still as it cradled his pristine white dress cap.
President Trump leaving his umbrella on the steps of Marine One last year.
Watching the exchange was Cpl. Aaron Gibbs, an active duty Marine whose dress blues, above-average height and sharp haircut served him well for carrying a flag in the evening’s ceremonies.
Without blinking, he said he does what the Marine Corps tells him. “If they say have an umbrella, I get an umbrella. If they say no, then no,” he said. “It’s just walking outside.”
The Army, Navy and Air Force have long authorized umbrellas for use by both sexes, and while officials declined to say why the Marines have waited so long, many Marines said they revel in being miserable and love having something to complain about.
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“There’s inherent training value to expose ourselves to misery, so when the time comes it will be second nature to us,” said the former mortarman, Mr. Witcher.
A 2013 incident involving then-President Barack Obama seemed to cement the umbrella’s fate. At a press conference, a Marine in blues held an umbrella over the president as he spoke. The incident, known by some Marines to this day as Umbrellagate, rained criticism on Mr. Obama for appearing to not know, or care to follow, Marine Corps protocol.
Mr. Obama didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The modern umbrella is linked to rainy England and 18th-century philanthropist Jonas Hanway, reputed to be the first man to carry one in London, according to a biography compiled by Westminster Abbey, where he is buried.
The martial history of umbrellas is harder to pin down. Brolliology—the study of umbrellas—isn’t a popular academic pursuit. One story involves the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
Former United States Marine Tim Chambers held a salute in the rain during the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in 2017.
pete marovich/European Pressphoto Agency
“Lord Wellington does not approve of the use of umbrellas during the enemy’s firing, and will not allow ‘the gentlemen’s sons’ to make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the enemy,” a Captain Gronow recalled, according to the Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes. (Wellington said guards on duty at St. James were allowed to carry umbrellas if they pleased.)
Today, the Marine Corps Uniform Board meets regularly to consider and propose changes. In May, along with the umbrella ban, board members discussed other issues such as whether Marines can tailor their dress shirts to be more form-fitting. They are now allowed to do so.
A closer look at recent uniform regulations show that other cracks are appearing in the facade, including what appears to be tacit permission for Leathernecks to keep their hands in their pockets.
“In a garrison environment you may not put your hands in your pockets other than to retrieve something from said pockets, at any time,” the uniform board website says. “However, good judgment will govern the application of this policy in the field environment.”
Write to Ben Kesling at email@example.com
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