WASHINGTON - Marines are being allowed to wear bracelets commemorating friends killed in action, a policy change that settles a debate that has roiled some in the force.
At issue are KIA bracelets, usually thin rubber or metal bands bearing the names of the fallen in Afghanistan, Iraq or other combat zone. Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said Tuesday the matter had been discussed and settled when he met last week with other senior Marine generals.
"We are acknowledging the close personal nature of our 10 years at war and the strong bonds of fidelity that Marines have for one another, especially for those fellow Marines who we have lost," Amos said.
The bracelets were technically not allowed under Marine Corps uniform regulations. Nevertheless, some troops have been wearing them while in uniform, and some but not all commanders have been telling them to stop.
That put some Marines in a dilemma: On one side was the Corps' tradition of good discipline and following orders. On the other, the searing emotions of a force hit with rising casualties as it helped reverse insurgent momentum in Afghanistan's southern Taliban stronghold.
"I never take it off," said Timothy Kudo, a former Marine captain and now a community organizer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He returned in March from duty in Afghanistan and served in 2009 in Iraq.
Kudo's bracelet carries the name of Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz-Rivera, a platoon sergeant killed by a Taliban bomb Nov. 16 in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
"He made his wife promise that, if he was killed, she would spend a large portion of his life insurance on a party, celebration, for his Marines," Kudo said in an interview last week. And when they went to Ortiz-Rivera's memorial at Camp Lejeune, N.C., she gave the bracelets to more than 70 people.
Kudo said of his black rubber bracelet with purple lettering: "It's a constant reminder for me of what better men than myself have done for this country, and every day I think about it. I know that because ... a lot of guys didn't make it back, I need to live every day to the best of my ability."
"To ask someone to take something like that off, it's disrespectful to them," Kudo said. "And it's disrespectful to the person who died."
Others said there should be no arguing about a Marine's duty.
"The regulation is the regulation," said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Until it's changed, it has to be adhered to. The Marines are the most disciplined of all the services, and (the bracelet) is not a uniform item."
In announcing his decision, Amos said he approved the wearing not only of KIA bracelets, effective immediately, but also bracelets that memorialize prisoners of war, the missing in action and those who died of wounds or injuries sustained in a combat zone.
The regulation on Marine uniforms does not specifically mention the KIA bracelets among jewelry authorized for wear when in uniform. It says they can wear watches, but they must be inconspicuous; necklaces must be worn inside the uniform and not visible; men can't wear earrings, though women can wear one per ear. Both sexes can wear inconspicuous rings one to a hand but not on their thumbs.
The bracelet prohibition has been the same for men and women in the Marine Corps, a force of some 202,000 that is only 6 percent female.
All the service branches have similar rules on jewelry, though they parted ways on some specifics, including on bracelets.
Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey wears a bracelet in the official portrait of him that was hung in the Pentagon several months after his spring retirement. It clearly shows the name of Sgt. 1st Class Randall L. Lamberson, who died in Iraq in 2006.
The Navy allows sailors to wear one "wristwatch/bracelet" on each arm. The Air Force bans bracelets "espousing support for a cause, philosophy, individual or group" with the exception of those for prisoners of war, the missing in action and the killed in action.
Part of the upset for Marines was that they were allowed to wear the POW/MIA wristbands that came into wide use in the Vietnam era, though not the now more popular KIA bands.
The POW/MIA bracelets were authorized by the Navy secretary in September 1972, with the following message: "Wearing of POW/MIA bracelets is authorized for Navy and Marine Corps personnel at any time they desire, including while in uniform as an expression of concern for their fellow servicemen who are prisoners of war or missing in action. This bracelet shall be of simple design, not more than one-half inch wide and containing rank/rate, name of the POW/MIA and date of capture or date missing."
That authority had never been rescinded or modified to include the KIA bracelet for Marines.