The “Old” Army

I got to pondering a few things of the Old Army that have disappeared over the years.

1. Payday- Yes, you still get paid, but in the Old Army, you didn’t have Direct Deposit. You showed up to the disbursing officer, and were paid in cash. Mind you, I joined the Army with Direct Deposit in place, but still had to do a “in person, cash” payday one time during basic training, just because they wanted us to see how it’s done. The impression I got was that it was a major pain to march halfway across Ft. Benning and back, just to pick up $50, while the rest of my pay was deposited in the normal manner. Today, you can’t even ship out to basic training without having your Direct Deposit set up.

2. Linen exchange- back in the old days, if you lived in the barracks, you used the Army’s sheets and blankets. Two plain white (unfitted) sheet, a plain white pillow case, and the ugliest bedspread in history, commonly referred to as the “disco blanket.”


Each week, you’d strip your sheets and pillow case, and turn them in to the company supply room, where you’d be issued a clean set straight from the post laundry. The disco blanket would usually be exchanged on a monthly basis.

3. Speaking of the post laundry… Quartermaster laundry. Each week, you’d deliver to your supply sergeant your laundry bag with up to 26 items, and a laundry list (on a pre-printed Army form, in triplicate, of course), and a few days later, fresh from the massive industrial washers of the post laundry, your uniforms would be returned. Socks, shorts, t-shirts and whatnot came back shrink wrapped in a bundle, but BDU trousers and blouses came back pressed and on cheap hangars. Of course, the QM laundry was infamous for breaking the plastic buttons when they pressed your uniforms, but that was a rather minor annoyance.

4. Ration cards- Do troops in Europe still get ration cards? Certain items back in the day were fairly cheap for US troops to buy in the PX, but vastly more expensive for their German counterparts. So US troops were rationed in the amounts of these items they could buy each month. A simple punch card was the method of counting how much you bought. As I recall, the items were gasoline (you could buy all you wanted for your own car on post, but only a certain number of coupons for discount gas for use at certain gas stations off post), hard alcohol, tobacco (Marlboros were very popular), sugar, and I’m not sure, but I think coffee.

5. Khaki uniforms- Sadly, the Army khaki uniform became obsolete about 3 weeks after I enlisted. Too bad. It was just about the sharpest uniform the Army ever had.

6. SQT- It used to be every Military Occupational Specialty had a written proficiency test for each skill level (Privates, Sergeants, Staff Sergeants, etc.). I really liked this, because I’m really good at standardized tests. Easy way to look good.

So, what do you miss from the Old Army (Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coasties, government, business, farm, etc…)?

23 thoughts on “The “Old” Army”

  1. The ability to really discipline a Soldier.

    When I showed up to my first unit out of flight school, I arrived at the airfield and saw a pup tent pitched in the grass by the parking lot. I asked my new PL what that was about and he told me that the CSM was making a Soldier sleep out there because he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep his area in the barracks clean. Try doing that today and see what happens to you.

    1. Don’t forget SOS-School of the Soldier (aka School on Saturday). Which wasn’t punishment, but Extra Military Instruction. Now, if you found having to spend your Saturday working your butt off with PT, barracks inspection, clothing and equipment inspection, drill and ceremony, digging foxholes, and a 12 mile road march punishing, that was just you. It was instruction to give you a better understanding of what was expected of you.

    2. Discipline? Huh? What is that? Sorely missed, that’s for sure. I would kill to be able to run a real School of the Soldiers.

      Bottom line is “Old Army” is what you grew up with. I often talk about the way things used to be. Most of them were better, but not all. I think the Continental Army was full of studs and we have progressively gotten worse every generation….
      And not all of the guys had that stupid blanket, though I vividly recall it and am amazed that you have a digital picture of it.

      1. Actually, it took quite a bit of looking to find a copy of it. I don’t think I have any in my own collection. That’s what google is for.

  2. I was paymaster for the last cash pay call in the 1st MarDiv, in the summer of 1987. Armed with a .45 with a round in the chamber, thumb safety on, similarly-armed duty driver. Counting out cash, signing for it, pay roster with cash total next to the name, the works. About a third of the Marines were paid by check, but about two thirds were cash. By the time I came around to paymaster duty again, there was no cash, a stack of checks (we were still armed), and direct deposit had kicked in at Navy Fed for 29 Palms. Not long after that, the 1st Sgt handed out the checks to the Marines not on DD, and by the time my first tour was done, the only checks you would get would be travel reimbursement. No more Payday Formation, which everyone always seemed to be able to make.

  3. huh.

    Brad, I’d never have pegged you as using a gay pride flag for a bedspread. Takes all kinds, I guess. I support you in your lifestyle choices, though. 🙂

    1. Every bed in the Army had one of those, you say?

      Seems this is the second time – ever – I get to say “and that’s why the Navy was the less-gay choice.” Oddly enough, both of those times were this week!

    2. Time to publish a picture of the folding down flap on the front of the navy’s crackerjacks. Reminds me of the old TV trays. It’s not just an Old Navy thing….

    3. Like I always told my squid buddies on shift…
      It’s not like the Village People had a song called “In the Army”.

  4. Never saw rainbow color but always the OD green wool blanket. To be honest, I miss the look of spit shined boots and a pressed uniform.

  5. they still (as of a year ago) still issue ration cards in Germany, IIRC it is still US Coffee(euro brands dont get punched at the Px/Comm) smoke, and hard liquer.

  6. Ah yes…..people of a tribe I used to belong to, well still do. Never before the missive did I see, or hear of the Psychedelic blanket, as with my fellow SFC my blanket was always OD Wool and only incorrectly made my bunk once with “US” facing up. To this day if one makes friends with Germans it is good form to take a carton of PX acquired cigarettes to the Vater of the family either Marlboro (Reds) or Menthols (Kools, Salem, Newports). I deeply missed D&C as I went to a High School Military Academy (Missouri Military Academy) where we drilled with M-1’s and I became familiarized with the “M-1 Thumb” one time only. Pay Day Activities were the wonderful adjunct to “drawing pay” as in my early years Saturday mornings always involved some sort of classroom instruction so marching (D&C check) to draw pay (money, and military customs check), and culminating with “Commanders Time” (s _ _ _, shower, & shave) go out get hammered and maybe get lucky, check. I’m old enough to remember khakis alright and upon DEROSing from RVN soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines could fly home on their “freedom bird” in “Jungles.” Thank you gentlemen, I turn 63 tomorrow so I’m going to consider this an early birthday present of a cultural variety. QM Laundry & Bath heh…a running Jody from Parachute Rigger School: (CAUTION INSENSITIVE LANGUAGE) I’d rather be the baby in the belly of a whore than to be a damn leg in the Quartermaster Corps.

  7. When I first enlisted we had to “break starch” every morning formation. We used the quartermaster laundry and they were able to provide extra starch on the fatigues. The uniform was so stiff it would stand on its own.
    When permanent press came out a few years before the BDU’s most of us went to using the company’s washing machines to save money. If you thought khaki were nice you would of loved the tropical weight version we had when I was with the 25 ID.
    I do remember being paid somewhere in the field with cash by the paymaster escorted by two Scout Platoon jeeps and their 60s fully loaded.

  8. You forgot the fart sack in the list of linen! Also, as a drill, I had a set of TWs as issue. The TWs were much better and more comfortable than khakis and looked better even though not starched. Missed old cotton OD fatigues with extra heavy starch when we switched over to the “new” permanent pressed fatigues that looked like “Joe shit the rag man”. They just did not wear as well under the round brown. Ditto not being able to properly discipline the troops. Saw it cycle from Vietnam era “kick em in the ass and run em through” to “pat em on the head and tuck em in bed”. I even got chewed out by the SGM for using certain 4 letter words around the troops.

  9. I went through many types of uniforms from 74-96 from starched khakis and fatigues, permapress, TWs, Army green, jungles, light and heavy weight BDUs (with the “flying nun” or “disco”collars that went all the way out to your shoulders). I recall in 1975 we were issued OD green t-shirts to replace the standard white ones.

  10. I liked Khakis too. Lot’s better than the Class Bs I put up with at OCS. I don’t miss the old cotton fatigues I endured at Flight School, though.

    I liked the dress Khakis the USN and USCG had when I went in. The Costies went over to a faux Air Force blue uniform that did not look as good, but they at least didn’t look like us squids anymore, and I think that was the main motivation for changing.

  11. I might be wrong, but I think the Marine Corps still does linen survey. Probably on hand-crank washing machines procured from Army DPDO before WWII. Which have been rebuilt seven times. Because, well, money’s tight. But they will be scheduled to be phased out by 2030 or so.

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