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Navy Issues Flammable Uniforms

Sailor, I have bad news and good news.

The bad news is that your issued uniform is flammable.

The good news? I lied. There is no good news.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Navy is now reviewing the suitability of working-issue uniforms after a test last fall demonstrated the things burn like kindling when ignited, and will “burn and melt until completely consumed.”

Awesome sauce.

That’s right – the new “blueberry” camouflage uniforms – the same ones designed to blend into the open ocean to make sailors who fall overboard that much more difficult to find – are also made of a highly flammable cotton and rayon combination that lights up like the 4th of July, except with 1,000% more screaming.

The Army and Marine Corps – two services apparently not run by morons – issue uniforms that are self-extinguishing. Which is why you can use a zippo-lighter to burn threads without fear of totally immolating yourself.

According to the A.P., the Navy has organized a working group to study the issue. A working group comprised of top men.

Top. Men.

Background – Prior to 1996, the Navy used to require that all shipboard personnel be issued flame-retardant clothing. The Navy, however, under President Clinton, decided that wasn’t a great idea, and changed the policy so that only certain crew members would be issued clothing that was flame retardant.

The policy change came less than ten years after an Iraqi fighter jet launched two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf. The first missile didn’t even detonate, but still caused a huge fuel fire that spread through large areas of the ship. 29 sailors were killed quickly, and eight more died of their wounds later. Two more were lost at sea, for a total of 37 dead.

The policy change also came in time for the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole.

The terrorists struck the Cole amidships, near the galley, where the crew was assembling for lunch. It was not immediately clear if those issued non-flame-retardant uniforms ate in a more protected area of the ship. Nevertheless, the bombing killed 17 sailors and wounded 39.

Navy officials involved in the decision to choose flammable uniforms for their sailors could also draw on the experiences of the USS Forrestal, which also experienced a massive shipboard fire in 1967, killing 134 men. 161 more were wounded.

The fire began as a result of the accidental firing of a Zuni missile on one aircraft on deck into another. The missile didn’t explode on impact, but it tore off the fuel tank, and ignited hundreds of gallons of jet fuel. The fuel, in turn, set off a chain reaction as over nine bombs exploded on the flight deck within minutes.

The exploding bombs tore huge, gaping holes in the flight deck, directly above sailors’ berthing areas, and flaming jet fuel poured into the gaps, killing and maiming more sailors below. See the Navy-produced 1973 training film, Trial By Fire: A Carrier Fights For Life, here.

In that particular fire, the initial bomb explosions killed nearly all trained firefighters aboard ship. The fire had to be contained by other personnel who were not dedicated and trained firefighters.

The Navy made the decision to issue uniforms known to be flammable, even with this experience.

I invite anyone involved in Navy procurement or uniform policy since 1996 to view the video from 5:10 and forward, and explain in the comments to any sailors reading why it is that all shipboard Navy personnel were not issued flame-retardant work uniforms as a matter of policy.

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