Memorial bracelets have become a regular reminder that the country is at war. President Obama wears one. Most soldiers wear them.
So do a lot of Marines.
And that has turned into something of a problem.
The Marines have always been among the most persnickety when it comes to their uniforms and their appearance. Recently, the Marine Corps Times, which is not affiliated with the service, noticed that some commanders have been ordering Marines to remove their “KIA bracelets,” which are meant to honor fallen service members.
The reason: The Marine Corps Uniform Regulations specifically prohibits the wearing of most jewelry.
Enforcement of that regulation has been spotty, and Marine non-commissioned officers have tended to allow the bracelets. But the article by the Times – which found plenty of Marines who were told they couldn’t have them – has caused an outcry.
At Quantico last week, home to about 6,700 military personnel, including many who have just returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marines described their fury over the issue. Some noted that the bracelets are sometimes sold by the spouses of service members who have been killed to help raise money.
“I came from a unit that lost a lot of men,” said Sgt. Darren Covington. “We wear the bracelets to remember our friends. It shouldn’t be against Marine Corps regulations to remember your buddies ... especially when some guys are walking around here with flashy gold watches.”
Under Marine Corps Uniform Regulations, jewelry is not permitted, with the exceptions of wedding rings, engagement rings, watches and chains, provided they can be tucked under T-shirts. In 1972, the Navy secretary also carved out a special exemption for POW/MIA bracelets.
The upshot, though, is that Marines technically aren’t allowed to wear the KIA bracelets, even if they are similar to the POW/MIA bracelets.
At Quantico, dubbed the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps,” the issue has hit a nerve among even those who don’t wear the jewelry.
“It's a huge insult,” said one master gunnery sergeant who declined to give his name. “These are our fallen brothers. This is how we show our respect.”
The Marine Corps Uniform Board is revisiting the issue, and the expectation is that Marines will soon be able to wear the bracelets without any concerns about straying from official policy.
“They are working the issue fairly aggressively,” said a Marine Corps official who was not authorized to discuss the issue on the record. “We expect a resolution possibly by the end of the year.”
Staff writer Kevin Sieff contributed to this report.
Clarification: An earlier version of this post suggested that families of the fallen sell the bracelets to help cover the costs of funerals. Marine Corps officials stress that the government covers the cost of funerals and provides a range of benefits to families of the deceased. The proceeds from the bracelets are sometimes used to cover other associated costs.