In the summer heat, soldiers want to be able to roll up their sleeves, but they haven't been able to in about a decade
Troops in other services can roll their sleeves, but soldiers have not been able to since the Army Combat Uniform replaced the Battle Dress Uniform.
For Spc. Milt Perkins, the summer heat at Fort Polk is like a Louisiana steam bath.
"I sweat every day when I walk to work," said Perkins, a 26-year-old operating room specialist for a combat support hospital. "You get sticky."
All he wants is to roll up the sleeves of his uniform and catch a hint of glorious breeze.
But under Army rules, he cannot.
And while soldiers might suffer this summer under the rule, most may not even know why it's there.
The Army's official explanation is that the top was made to protect soldiers' forearms from the sun, insects, and other elements and it's not designed to be cuffed.
While sleeve-rolling is not on the table right now, leadership is "always looking to make our clothing and equipment better," said Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi, senior enlisted adviser to Program Executive Office Soldier, the office which procures and provides soldier equipment.
"Soldiers can request changes to the Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1 Guide to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, by submitting a Department of the Army (DA) Form 2028 to the Army G1 though their chain of command," Maddi said in an email.
Troops are ready to roll
Long-sleeves are not only hotter, but also dirtier, said Pfc. Ian Strutt-Kist, a 19-year-old who works at the Tustin, California, Army Reserve. It was a problem in California's 80- and 90-degree summers, but also when he was digging foxholes in Basic Combat Training.
"When working with dirt, if dirt gets on your forearms under your jacket and you're sweaty, it basically becomes mud up your sleeve and it is very uncomfortable," Strutt-Kist said.
Most soldiers said the heat was the primary reason they want the OK to roll sleeves, adopting the "suns out, guns out" mentality of their Marine brethren.
Other soldiers chimed in to say rolled sleeves could actually improve a soldier's appearance.
Spc. Ian Humphrey, a 26-year-old construction surveyor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and the son of a Marine scout sniper, recalls the crisp cuffed sleeves of the Battle Dress Uniform era.
"In (Battle Dress Uniforms) they looked more like soldiers, someone to look up to," Humphrey said. "You always saw everyone with their sleeves rolled up and tattoos out, no problem."
Not all soldiers agree it's time to lift the ban.
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. James Lowe, a 35-year-old indirect fire infantryman at the Camp Swift, Texas, training center, said he wasn't a fan when he rolled his sleeves on active duty in the late 1990s. He still opposes it.
Big Army's rationale
The Army's ban on sleeve rolling began with one sentence tucked in one all-Army message from April 5, 2005, when then-Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker replaced the Battle Dress Uniform with the Army Combat Uniform.
The message state the "sleeves will be worn down at all times, and not rolled or cuffed."
At that time, it was said the rule would protect soldiers against sunburns and skin cancer.
Across DoD, there were 2,198 skin cancer patients in 2013, though it ranked in the bottom third in terms of the frequency of the military's medical issues.
The risks apparently have not been enough to dissuade the other services from OKing sleeve rolls.
Health risks aside, there is another big reason why sleeve-rolling is outlawed.
"The Army never designed [the Army Combat Uniform] to have rolled sleeves," Maddi said in a statement to Army Times.
The "engineering of the uniform" — in essence, its Velcro pockets on either forearm and a pen pocket above the left cuff — "makes it difficult to roll the sleeves," Maddi said.
Sleeve-rolling in history
Although soldiers are pictured in rolled sleeves from World War II through the Vietnam War, it appears as though Army regulations did not address the issue widely until 1969.
Army historian Luther Hanson, of the Army Quartermaster Museum on Fort Lee, Virginia, researched the issue after receiving an Army Times request.
He found in 1966 that local regulations in Vietnam authorized commanders to allow "cuffed sleeves."
In 1969, appearance regulations dictated that sleeves not be rolled or shortened. Exceptions were permitted, "only to prevent heat injury."
"What that means to me is that the local commander could designate, 'It's really hot, roll your sleeves up,' " Hanson said.
Hanson also found Army appearance regulations published in 1981, 1987 and early 2005 that permitted rolled sleeves, so long as the cuffs sat no more than three inches above the elbow. In contrast with the Marine Corps, which exposed the underside of the sleeves, the sleeves of the Battle Dress Uniform were to be rolled with camouflage facing out.
Marine Corp flip-flops
Like the Army, the Marine Corps also recently banned sleeve-rolling. But the decision, approved in 2011 by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, was very unpopular and was actually reversed this February.
The Marine Corps Uniform Board supported the 2011 ban, saying it would help Marines to "train as you fight," since they wore their sleeves long while downrange.
Marines were immediately incensed at the rule change, many linking crisp sleeve rolls to part of the Corps' culture.
Amos expected the angst to subside, but was surprised as years passed and the complaints continued.
"It was a visceral thing for Marines," Amos said. "And there was only one person who could change it. And it was me."
Older Marines have since had to educate younger Marines about the proper sleeve-rolling technique — something the Army would also have to consider if the sleeve-rolling ban was ever reversed.