Beloved readers: The U.S. military has been such a target rich environment for stories as of late that covering the Pentagon has felt like drinking from a firehose. Just when the news gods seemed to be finished with their coke binge, Kanye West proposed to President Trump that he replace Air Force One with a hydrogen-powered iPlane that may or may not exist in real life.
Your humble Pentagon correspondent has spent this last week like a dog chasing after a car. This reporter has a notebook full of news tidbits that may not rise to the level of Kanye’s iPlane, but they are interesting nonetheless.
That’s why this Pentagon Run-Down is dedicated to stories that may have been lost in the crazy news cycle. So sit back, relax, turn off the lights. Let’s make some magic happen.
Neller Describes Having Marines As His Bosses: FML
Marines yield a lot of influence in the Trump administration. Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are both legendary Marine veterans, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.
But when Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller was asked recently how his job is affected by having Marines in key senior leadership positions, he tilted his head back and laughed as if he had just been told a good joke.
“I find it interesting that everybody seems to think that because Gen. Kelly is over at the White House and the secretary of defense is a Marine and chairman is a Marine that we get a pass,” Neller said at an Oct. 10 Defense Writers Group breakfast. “I think it goes the other way because they know who we are and what we do. I think it makes it more difficult – in many ways. But at the same time, there is a certain understanding of the culture and the organization.”
Mattis has ordered the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force to get at least 80 percent of their fighter aircraft ready to fly by Oct. 1, 2019 – a miracle on the order of Jesus providing enough fish and loaves for his disciples.
“Secretary Mattis in my experience – and I’ve worked for him several times – he’s operationally, obviously, a very competent guy,” Neller said. “He understands what he wants. He’s very clear. He said 80 percent. Roger that. So we’ll see how we do – and I’m sure if we don’t make it, we’ll hear about it.”
Navy Blackballs Blue Nail Polish
For female sailors, blue nail polish is forbidden fruit – akin to putting your hands in your pockets. So when a September Navy administrative message did not include blue in the list of proscribed nail polish colors, some sailors took to social media to celebrate their new freedom.
But the festivities were short-lived because the Navy updated its uniform regulations shortly thereafter to make crystal clear that blue nail polish remains a scarlet letter.
“NAVADMIN 233/18 provided general policy guidance, whereas the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations (NAVPERS 15665I) provides more policy specifics,” a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose. “Navy Uniform Regulations has been updated to include blue as well as other colors (white, black, red, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, hot pink, grey, glitter, striped, or any sort of pattern/decorative) as examples of unauthorized nail polish colors while in uniform.”
While all of that is informative, it begs the question: Why is the Navy going to such lengths to determine which colors of nail polish are too decorative for sailors? If the Navy were to allow sailors to paint their nails blue, would that allow the Chinese to capture Hawaii or the Russians to send an aircraft carrier up the Potomac?
“All sailors are expected to maintain a neat and professional appearance while in uniform,” a service spokesman said in an email. “The Navy prohibits the wear of any non-conservative, faddish or conspicuous nail polish color that would diminish the professional appearance of sailors in uniform.”
Mattis Channels Eminem
Defense Secretary Mattis has become the one thing rarer than a Chief Warrant Officer 5: An original member of the Trump cabinet who hasn’t quit or been fired. (Mattis is also rarer than unicorns, but we already knew that).
Shortly after Nikki Haley announced on Oct. 9 that she was resigning as ambassador to the United Nations, a reporter asked Mattis what it is like to be “one of the last few original cabinet members standing.”
“The team is doing very well,” he replied. “I will just tell you I won’t see you Thursday morning because I’m having breakfast with the secretary of state and the national security adviser. It’s a close relationship. I’m having lunch tomorrow with the president. The beat goes on, things are going fine.”
While “The Beat Goes On” is the name of a song by Sonny and Cher, it is also a key lyric in Eminem’s 2002 hit single “Lose Yourself.” It is highly unlikely that Mattis was aware that he was quoting Eminem. If he had, perhaps he would have dropped a chiasmus by saying something like, “I make other people vomit mom’s spaghetti on their sweaters.”
And somewhere in the distance, Gen. Neller would nod knowingly.
Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 13 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at [email protected] or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.