Sears Promotes Army Chic
From the beaches of Normandy to the Deserts of to Vietnam’s Tet Offensive to Fallujah Iraq and now hauteconcept.com?
Yep, 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."
Where the money goes — and how much — is a concern for the larger House Appropriations Committee, which has pressed the Pentagon for more answers.
All American Apparel refused to discuss any financial details when questioned by Politico but said it will pay a royalty to the Army on each item sold by Sears.
Burke said there is already substantial Internet trafficking in 1st Division items not sanctioned by the military. And as part of their marketing appeal, Sears and All American emphasize that the sanctioned products will yield revenue to help the troops.
But the Pentagon’s own internal directives suggest that the licensing fees initially will go to a "clearing account" that is first used to defray the costs of the Defense Department’s larger efforts to enhance its "brand" with future young recruits.
How this breaks down exactly is unclear. House Appropriations staffers said that the Army estimates $2.5 million has made its way into the morale and welfare account since the licensing program was authorized in 2005. But little apparently has been spent, staffers said. And a December 2007 Pentagon directive lists "providing financial support to morale, welfare and recreation activities" as seventh among the responsibilities assigned to the program. Higher priorities include "enhancing the name, reputation and public goodwill of the DOD Components" and supporting the recruitment and retention of personnel.
"Strong brand identification through retail sales of products potentially can enhance the Army’s recruiting efforts and the public’s general goodwill towards the Army and its activities," the Army said in its statement Monday evening. "The various marks can help build unit pride and esprit de corps, raise public awareness of the Army, support its recruiting effort."
In a statement Saturday attributed to its president, Bob McGuinness, All American told Politico it had been granted a license by the Army "to use the Army’s unique marks and insignia on apparel that is designed and sold by our company."
"All American Apparel Inc. is legally registered to do business as All American Army Brand," the company said. "All of our apparel is designed in the U.S. Our production is sourced globally and is manufactured in facilities that meet all required labor and workplace standards. Our efforts have resulted in a great product at a great price that people can wear, enjoy and show their support for our troops."
Robyn Kures, a Los Angeles-based spokeswoman for the fashion launch, said "every tag, label, design and final product sample must be approved by the Army before it is sold."
"The apparel is inspired by the rich tradition of the U.S. Army; there are no political statements, just high-quality and high-style apparel," she said. "All American Army Brand will roll out several collections, consisting of a range of styles and silhouettes, from T-shirts, hoodies, henleys and denim to knits and outerwear."
Organized in 1917 as the 1st Expeditionary Division, the 1st Division was among the earliest U.S. combat units in France in World War I and, after being reorganized in 1942, fought in North Africa and Europe in World War II.
In 1965, it was sent to Vietnam and suffered an estimated 20,770 casualties before being pulled out in 1970. It has since seen combat in both the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the current Iraq war, as well as peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.
The full reach of this history is illustrated by the 28th Infantry, which earned the name The Black Lions of Cantigny in France in 1918. A half-century later, units of the same 28th were still wearing Black Lions patches and assigned to fight communist forces in the old French colonial-era Michelin rubber plantation region of Vietnam.