On the Military and ‘Gucci Gear People’

Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, then the commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Command, visits service members at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy on Aug. 9, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Shawn Valosin)Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, then the commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Command, visits service members at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy on Aug. 9, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Shawn Valosin)

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is proving to be quite the quotable general.

His way with words was on display last week at the I/ITSEC (Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference) in Orlando, Florida, when he reportedly said, “We’ve allowed ourselves to become Gucci gear people.”

That was his way of saying that military gear has become overly complicated, according to Jen Judson, a reporter for Defense News who attended the show.

With the proliferation of digital camouflage patterns, modular and scalable load-bearing packs, smart guns, new headsets that merge night vision and thermal imaging and other high-tech products, I can see Neller’s point. But doesn’t that have more to do with technological advancement than gear being too complicated or high-end?

I didn’t catch Neller’s full speech, so he may have had a lot more to say on this issue. But either way, that was a great quote and I’d be curious to hear what you all think of it. In your opinion, have troops become “Gucci gear people?”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • BuylocalBill

    I am reminded of Arthur C Clarke’s third law of robotics, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Would General Neller have Marines back fighting wars with clubs and spears because technology is “magic”? I hope not. Technology that serves a genuine and relevant purpose, and the associated training, are what puts the modern soldier on a more advanced footing than groups like the Taliban and ISIS. The expectation is that military leaders like Neller will equip their troops with the most appropriate equipment, provide appropriate training, and then use the best strategies and tactics to win the battles they are deployed to fight. If Neller believes that fashion has supplanted function in the USMC, then he needs to act, not just talk. If he meant something else by the reported comment, then he needs to clarify himself to the people he serves as well as to the Marines who look to him for leadership.

    • Tom

      No Buyloca he doesn’t need to clarify aything to his marines because if you are or were a Marine (his target audience) then you know exactly what he is talking about. The number of times I had Marines from other units beg me to help them learn how to use pieces of gear they had because nobody except the guy who just went on a week long patrol knew how to use it is amazing. IF you wanted to use a wolfhound you had to have a week long course on its operations and then have access to it periodically to continue to train with it and become proficient. In most real world units that is just not feasible for several reasons. What General Neller is saying is that we need to make this gear either A. More easily used or B. Find a replacement thats easier to use. Plus lets not forget that congress in its infinite wisdom forced several contracts down our throat for gear that we dont need, use or want.

      • Moon

        I’d put my last dollar the General knows exactly what he’s talking about as do his Marines. Perhaps, the reporter should have listened to the rest of the General’s speech as should anyone else negatively taking comments out of context. Say it again Tom
        Semper Fi

    • Joey

      Vietnam Versus The USA With All Its Advanced Equipment What Did It Do For Us??–Absolutely Nothing…!!

    • Geoff

      Let’s hope the Marines always remember that a fight can degenerate to clubs and spears. High tech is great but it may not be available when push commes to shove.

    • Moondog

      Two brilliant science fiction writers are referenced here. The three laws of robotics were derived by Isaac Assimov. They are found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robot….

      1.A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
      2.A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
      3.A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.[1]

      I recommend I,Robot and the entire Foundation Series by Assimov. H ewas highly prolific and wrote hundreds of books. So take your pick.

      Arthur C. Clark’s Three Laws are as follows:

      1.When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
      2.The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
      3.Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      • kmsMNCM

        Good catch; I was going to write the same thing, except I would spell Asimov’s name correctly and somehow avoid the asterisks–unless you were making a statement on your dislike of his writings/opinions.

    • Gus

      Technology can’t replace the eyeballs. I teach for the Marines tracking and human profiling. How to track a person through any terrain is a lost art. Every other country in the world has dedicated tracking team except the US. We teach the Marines to observe people for intent, lethal intent and to act before allowing something to happen. Technology can’t do that yet.

    • Gqshire

      The third law of robotics is: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

    • shoozoo

      The Marines know what he’s saying…he’s speaking like a Marine.

    • Wosinc

      Clarke indeed did say what you quoted, but he didn’t formulate the Rules of Robotics.

      Isaac Asimov did.

  • Lance

    No he is right. We don’t need too much computers an compact crap on infantryman’s gear. The is tacti cooling run amok.

  • JCitizen

    I’d take anything I could to get a tactical advantage, but it better be an extension of my senses, and not a drag on my butt!

  • Slag

    Why do Sailors need camo???

    • Airborne_fister

      Wait you mean the guys on the boats. The ones that only leave when the boat is docked correct?

      • RtUp

        No, Corpsmen, the ones who braved fire to save us. I 3/5, 69 to 70.

        • Doc

          Rt, Semper Fi brother, Doc.

    • Mike Read, USMC(Ret

      Good question!

    • Doubtom

      Maybe if you had been around during the Vietnam War, where we lost more troops in one month, than were lost in the entire Iraq war, you might have seen Navy Units serving alongside of the Army and Marine units, that’s why. Ever heard of the Riverine forces? My unit served ON THE GROUND, in the rivers, in the bays and on the coast of Vietnam, from IV Corps to I Corps. But we just wore green fatigues and most of the time, without helmets.

    • 30314

      When we were active, sailors did wear camo (special forces is another matter) and did not need camo. Believe this camo for all is a way of trying to say solders, sailors and airmen are all the same a politically correct response which is False.

  • m. bressie

    As a viet nam era Marine combat vet I will bet the Commandant is simply saying Marines are fighters notwithstanding fancy new gear. Of course he would want Marines to have the best gear possible but it still comes down to guts, training, and leadership.

    • Snow

      With the USMC don’t forget the money issue. It also needs to range from cheap to free.

  • 1 RGJ

    More kit more weigh. Being an ex light infantryman I was even against body armour but then I am a lazy c@nt!

    • Tom

      I was always against the MTV, that thing is overly bulky, heavy and obstructed my movement and ability to quickly bring my rifle to bear. The Plate carrier on the other hand was wonderful. It was lighter, smaller and didn’t keep me from getting my rifle on target.

  • Jason

    I think what he’s saying is that brands have become overly important, just like fashion. There’s some good Kit by some good manufacturers, but the idea that issue gear completely sucks and a soldier has to have all the cool-guy very expensive brands like Oakley, Arcteryx, OR, and others is what I think he’s referring to. There are a lot of civilian brands crossing over into the military and the focus can be on the brand itself rather than the actual gear and how much improvement over issue does it really offer. Those companies offer great stuff (for the most part), but does it really offer very significant differences and improvements for the average grunt? Is that because of the product itself or who it was made by?

    • Tom

      I think your right to a degree, and i also think that a lot of issue gear is unnecessary and useless. I was issued a bayonet holder for my molly gear….But I wasn’t issued a bayonet. I was given grenade pouches…that you couldn’t fit a grenade into or get one out of quickly if at all. I as given a dump pouch for empty magazines and such and only ever used it for keeping snacks handy.

      That withstanding I think the general is also trying to point out that a lot of gear has become unnecessarily difficult to use. The Wolfhound springs to mind.

    • Jason Reed

      I was light infantry and I was expected to buy all Tactical Tailor gear because issue gear was inferior and the squad all matched. Needless to say, I told them if Uncle Sam wanted me to have fancy gear he would of issued it to me. I was transferred out of that squad before the end of the day. Truth be told, I liked the Tactical Tailor gear. I was married with two children so I didn’t have the extra money to “fit in”. I believe every professional buys or uses the best gear he or she can afford.

  • Sarge2

    Not only the military but the police departments and law enforcement as a whole, have gone the way of “Gucci gear”!

    • Doubtom

      The PDs are now indistinguishable from the military!

    • dewhit

      I understand and appreciate the police in our country but I am growing tired of seeing the police rucked up and strapping everything possible and looking like a night recon. Then you see the goofy officer in the same attire but wearing shiny jewelry and having a gut hanging over their belt. They need to be reconfigured in their work dress immediately. Everyone wants to play warrior…

  • Eric

    The commandant has a valid point. I was fortunate to serve with General Neller, so I know him from a grunt’s perspective. Quality kit is important, but there are limits on what you need. Equipment has advanced considerably since I left the Corps; however, I’m confident our military members are still trying to remain lightweight. I have spent 20 years in law enforcement since the Corps, with ten years in the tactical world. Good kit is great, but all too often we are issued non-essential gear that simply weighs us down.

  • Tony

    I agree with CMC. We have become entirely too dependent on technology. We need to concentrate more on our primary skills and training. The gear we use should be ancillary to our mission. Not primary.
    Don’t get me wrong. Tech gear is a great thing. The problem is that we are becoming overly dependent on it. It really becomes and issue when you have to spend more time training to use tech gear than you do training to be aware of the situation in which you need to use it.

    Tony Old School Old Corps.

  • Eric B.

    Well, Gen. Neller is correct in some ways. For example the “scalable pack” just begs to have its parts “lost” or truly misplaced just when they are needed most.

    However for elite troops who know how to take care of their gear (think adult backpackers v.s. Boy Scouts) such items as a combined night vision/thermal vision scopes are a blessing because each technology compensates for weaknesses in the other. Enemy with IR treated uniforms hiding behind foliage cannot be detected by night vision but CAN be detected by thermal vision – and eliminated.

    Also parts of modular backpacks for light infantry troops like Rangers or 10th Mountain Division can be stored in APCs and FOBs where they can be used as needed for specific missions, be they long range 7,000 cu. in packs or quick night raids with a small survival/assault pack or butt pack.

    So, as it has been in the past, elite troops will get the “Gucci gear” and grunts won’t. AND, ya gotta watch out for overload of too much Gucci gear. Among backpackers is a saying, “He’s got money. He owns 150 pounds of lightweight gear.” Uh huh…

  • Grutn surgeon

    Any gear used in the field has to be seriously field tested to make sure it works, makes life better for the person using it, and is maintainable in the field. Stuff that needs a lot of maintenance or very specific consumables is simply not sustainable in the field. For example GPS is great, but a compass and map never run out of juice, can’t be jammed etc. Don’t forget for every pound of gesr you add, you need to take a pound less of something else – that’s why everyone “field strips” MRE’s before you go out to hump. Some gear, like body armor, is a no brainer (but still needs to be user friendly) some other stuff, not so much. From a long time doc with the Marines.

  • Joe Momma

    Wait, I need digital camo earbuds for my MP3 player which should also be digital camo.

  • Mandingo

    As a Marine from the ’80’s…I recall a Marine Corps mantra from that time, has stated by Viet Nam veterans…glass breaks in combat, batteries die when you need them in combat…but peep sights (the plain metal sights, old fashioned) last and don’t break down…you can depend on them…they won’t let you down…

  • ycz51309

    “I didn’t catch Neller’s full speech, so he may have had a lot more to say on this issue. ”

    Maybe you should reserve comment until you do “catch Neller’s full speech.” I realize that would require committing an act of journalism but context is important.

  • Tomaso

    Tech will always be important in keeping the edge…..my worry will always be that we become to reliant on it and lose the skill with out. The military needs to make sure that all tech is piggyback to basic systems not “the system”

  • Navyjag907

    For one thing and partly as a result of this new gear, infantrymen are carrying greater loads by far than any in history. The loads dwarf anything I ever carried. And if we buy all this new splendid gear, someone is going to order the grunt to carry it. If we spend all that money we can´t just leave it behind. I´m older than the general and he makes a very good point. And I look at the giant packs and theyŕe just begging to be filled–I would cut the size of the packs to begin with. Theyŕe so much larger than anything I was issued. I know SOF guys can carry the loaded giant packs but most grunts aren´t SOF types.

  • straps

    Says the guy who gets to walk around the battlefield in a soft cap. With all due respect to the Commandant.

    The “Gucci Gear” trope ignores the REAL need for a load carriage solution that integrates armor of manageable weight with load of full utility. Which hasn’t yet been done. That’s not Gucci, that’s BILLIONS saved in service-connected disability determinations.

    If this guy wants to fix that, good on him. If not, he’s not advancing the dialog. With all due respect to the Commandant.

    Out of context, sounds like he just wants me off his lawn.

  • john

    we need to relearn our basic combat skill.we have fought country’s with no navy, no air support and next to zero Hillary for 25 years out of the last 60 years and yet we can not claim a defeat of those groups,yes these groups may not have miltary skill that equal ours, it is thief mindset that makes them fight against the combined miltary might of the world,professional BASIC miltary skills should be mastered,then the mind can follow and react when cream of technology go,s sour

  • The Man

    Marine infantry works due to redundancy of training. Supply the units that directly support the infantry with all the advanced gear. The lighter weight of the infantryman allows for faster response time when confronting the enemy, as well as less logistical needs; which enables the commanders greater flexibility. I served Better than 8 years as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, all of them as a infantryman. The units that support the ” Grunts” should have all the advanced gear to help facilitate a quick response when they are needed. Semper Fi.

  • Ed C

    A few years ago i went aboard Enterprise before her inactivation and was stunned to see sailors running around in camouflage! Who exactly are they hiding form on a 95,000 ton warship? Who makes these decisions? What was wrong with chambray shirts and dungarees?

    • Navyjag907

      Very good question. It´s idiotic to put sailors in cammies on ships. And then picking a color to blend in with the waves should one fall overboard is dangerous; surely, someone in authority has objected to this.

      • Zombrowski

        Easier to hide spots and stains. Sad, aint it.

    • straps

      1. The Navy loves all 15 of the uniforms it issues its Sailors. Even the Camo ones. Sorry, had to go there. Much love.

      2. Looking in from the outside (Army on Joint Assignment), camo is an option for Sailors whose duties take them ashore. And Sailors spend a LOT more time ashore than they get credit for. It makes perfect sense to them, and they’re always in the right uniform, trained and equipped for ops on dry land.

      Caveat: I’m talking about NWU/AOR camo, not that blueberry camo, which makes Army UCP look something like a wise decision.

  • von vomit

    I understand the general, and I am not even a Marine. Our wonderful military has become too reliant on technology up the point where all it takes is either a virus, a EMP, or a massive solar storm. And then we would become massively crippled, and the loss of life on the battle field would become staggering.

  • denny004

    I wish the author of this article had heard the whole speech. Maybe these questions were answered.

  • Woodsplitter

    Kit Up! staff: please seek clarification from the General. Thanks.