From Cantigny, France, and the Argonne Forest to North Africa, Normandy, Vietnam’s Iron Triangle and Iraq —and now hauteconcept.com?
Foreign battles aren’t new for the 1st Infantry Division, but this firefight is from another world, a clash between the New Army and Old over plans to commercialize the 1st Division’s historic “Big Red One” insignia in a sportswear line at Sears.
After days of questioning, the Army confirmed Monday the arrangement was first reached in June 2007 on the advice of an outside licensing agency, The Beanstalk Group in New York, but the full scope of the royalties to be earned has yet to be disclosed.
“I’m astounded,” said Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who chairs the House appropriations panel overseeing the Pentagon’s nearly half-trillion-dollar budget.
“There is a great deal of concern among the senior Army brass about this deal,” said a Defense official.
But Sears, Roebuck and Co. is already moving to market its 1st Division “collection” this fall, and All American Apparel Inc., a privately held New York manufacturer, told Politico on Saturday that it had license from the Pentagon to proceed.
Caught most by surprise are combat veterans of the 1st Infantry Division, who see their familiar red-and-green shoulder patch splashed across Internet websites celebrating soldier chic.
“The U.S. Army launches an all-out fashion offensive,” reads the headline on stylelist.com. A Sears corporate press release quotes an unnamed Army spokesman extolling the new line for melding the “Army’s timeless traditions with iconic styling.” And following the Republican convention, the fashion blog Haute Concept added this note: “Now gun-toting soccer moms like Sarah Palin [can] get all their fight gear with one stop!”
Charles Horner, a retired Army officer now working for Murtha, isn’t happy. He served with the 1st Division in Vietnam, as did his father in World War II, including landings in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy.
“That patch is to be worn by only people who served in the 1st Division,” said Horner. “What right does the Army have to sell our patch?”
Ed Burke, president of an association for veterans of 1st Division’s 28th Infantry — in which this reporter served in Vietnam as an infantry medic — is more philosophical. “Surprise is what I hear most — and not knowing what is going on,” he said of the reaction to the Army’s venture. “[Defense] didn’t talk to anyone.”
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