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Naval khakis take command

The Baltimore Sun


By definition: drab, yellowish-brown, originating from the Persian word khak, which means dust or ashes.

Used predominantly in military uniforms around the world and, more recently, as a color on pants and skirts that can go with pretty much anything, except maybe gray, depending on whom you ask.

But at the Naval Academy, khaki is officially acquiring a new meaning: leadership.

Instead of the dark blue working uniforms that midshipmen wear in classes or attending to everyday matters on the campus - and which, fashion police might add, are a bit drab in their own right - seniors have begun donning khaki.

"First Class Midshipmen will now wear the Summer Khaki uniform to better highlight and recognize their class distinction as leaders of the Brigade and to bring them in line with the Fleet they will enter in nine months," said Capt. Margaret Klein, the academy commandant or second-in-command, in a written statement.

Midshipmen have long worn the uniforms during summer assignments in Annapolis, but the new policy is a first, one of many sweeping changes announced last week by Klein and the school's new superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler. The new regulations include huge cutbacks on Mids' free time and nonmilitary extracurricular activities like the gospel choir, as well as mandatory study hour and meals.

Not all of the changes have been popular, midshipmen said, but the new uniforms have been among the least controversial.

"At a school like this so steeped in tradition, at some point, you do break with the past, and that's not always easy for some people," said Gavin Lippman, 22, a Baltimore native and battalion commander. "But not all change is bad. As officers, this is something we'll be wearing very soon, so this is another chance to prepare."

The brigade of 4,400 midshipmen is broken down into six battalions, each with five companies of about 145 Mids. Seniors lead the brigade in a variety of positions, and their performance in numerous activities is seen as a way to get them ready to lead enlisted men and women as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps.

Sarah Roberts, another battalion commander, said some midshipmen initially complained about the khaki directive, believing seniors already were distinguished by insignias on their uniforms. But lately, most have come around.

"We are supposed to be the leaders of the brigade, and this is just the physical representation of positions we stepped into this year," said Sam Rykaczewski, 21, the brigade commander. "The dark blue is not a uniform you see in the Navy, so people can come here and see that more and more, we are looking like the real Navy."

Hordes of midshipmen will not be descending on Annapolis in brown. Out in town, or at the mall, they will still don the traditional white uniforms that have always brought a certain charm into the city.

The change is most noticeable during formations before meals. Instead of a sea of dark blue, marching into place as a seamless mass, it is a sea of dark blue - almost black - dotted with khaki specks.

Kelly Zahalka, a 20-year-old junior, joked that she felt like a "black sheep" among the seniors she works with frequently in the chain of command. Still, she saw it as an opportunity for all of them.

"It definitely puts them in the spotlight," said Zahalka, of Richmond, Va., noting that faculty had caught on and begun to recognize seniors in her classes. "When you look different from everyone else, it makes people notice and carry some sense of responsibility."

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