(Military Times) -- The Pentagon's senior non-commissioned officer insists his comments made earlier this month critical of the hodgepodge of American camouflage patterns did not signal support for stripping Marines of their unique combat uniforms.
During an Aug. 5 town hall meeting with fellow Marines in Hawaii, Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia said the variety of camouflage patterns in use today across the four services makes deployed U.S. forces look like an "American Baskin Robbins," according to a Marine Corps news release posted online this week. Battaglia is the senior enlisted adviser to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.
"The idea," Battaglia told Marines, "is to find a universal uniform for the battlefield, whereas branch garrison uniforms will most likely remain the same. "Talks concerning a distinct universal uniform are currently a work in progress."
A provision in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would require the services to transition to a single camouflage utility uniform by 2018, and military officials everywhere are taking sides on the move.
There are 10-plus camouflage uniforms in use within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, where the issue is particularly contentious.
The Corps' distinctive and proprietary Marine Pattern digital camouflage, commonly called MARPAT, is widely regarded as the U.S. military's premier combat uniform. And the service's most senior leaders have made it clear they will fight to retain it as exclusive to their service.
In July, during his visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said the Marines were sticking to MARPAT like "a hobo on a ham sandwich."
The top enlisted Marine, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett, told Marine Corps Times earlier this year there is a reason Marines want to look distinct on the battlefield."Like our dress blues, the [combat uniform] is a visible indicator of our identity as United States Marines, globally," he said. "It's part of our Corps' identity."
Asked if his comments in Hawaii represent a disagreement with the position Amos and Barrett have taken on a universal battlefield uniform, Battaglia responded with a lengthy written clarification.
"First, there is no universal uniform being worked on," he wrote in an email. "I am not aware of anyone trying to combine our service branches into one united armed force. I don't believe in that nor do I think our chairman believes in it."
Battaglia said he believes in the importance of individual service "identity, tradition, and culture," but he is not opposed to displaying unity on the battlefield with a common camouflage utility uniform, just as all the services now use the same kind of flight suit.
"Additionally, it's been asked by coalition members why do Americans need so many different colors of an American uniform when they are in a foreign land supposedly representing their nation not their service," he wrote. "It was a keen observation and a sensible question."
The authorization bill with the uniform provision has passed the House and now awaits passage in the Senate.