Portland: The Pentagon should step up or pipe down

Portland: The Pentagon should step up or pipe down
© Getty Images

Some military figures apparently have qualms about the U.S. Border Patrol, a federal law enforcement agency, wearing “their” uniforms in the defense of the federal courthouse in Portland, Ore.

After President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE’s highly publicized walk from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church, two senior officials — the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were scandalized to find they were in the vicinity of politics.

The secretary and the chairman retreated across the Potomac faster than General Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Antietam. Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings MORE distanced himself from the photo-op and the president’s suggestion the military be used to restore order under the authority of the Insurrection Act. The Chairman, Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Biden emphasizes diversity in first visit to Pentagon Pentagon: Extremist groups recruit from military MORE, also apologized, and said he hoped to learn from the situation, as he and the secretary were apparently alarmed that the American people may have glimpsed a camouflage military uniform in the nation’s capital even as rioters were poised to attack federal buildings.


Since then, the Border Patrol deployed its Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), similar to a SWAT team, to protect the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore., from rioters. The BORTAC officers wear a camouflage uniform, known as Operational Camouflage Pattern, similar to that worn by the U.S. armed forces.

The Border Patrol officers sallied from the courthouse with non-lethal weapons — tear gas, pepperballs, and “impact weapons” (rubber bullets) — to repel and apprehend rioters who tried to set fire to the courthouse. Five of the officers were injured and three may have suffered permanent eye injury from lasers wielded by the rioters. 

No sooner had the (tear gas) clouds parted than we were subjected to a lot of “concerns” and furrowing of brow by the Secretary of Defense and military figures worried that federal officers trying to keep a courthouse from being burned down might be confused with their troops.

The military should be so lucky.

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonLawmakers want Pentagon, DOJ to punish current, former military members who participated in riot House chairman endorses Michele Flournoy for Biden's Pentagon chief Trump critic: I am not afraid of Trump MORE (D-Mass.), a former U.S. Marine, said the Border Patrol officers “…obviously have no understanding of our military's most basic values — to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States." Tell it to the blinded officers.


Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling criticized the wearing of camouflage by the Border Patrol and proudly recounted that when he was leading the effort to rebuild Iraq’s police force, he equipped them in uniforms dissimilar to those worn by Iraq’s military. The Iraqi Police definitely looked like regular cops, but that didn’t stop it from being infiltrated by militia groups and earning a well-deserved reputation for corruption and brutality.

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré decried the Border Patrol for wearing “the cloth of our nation” and followed up with "Get the hell out of our uniforms.

Really, “the cloth of our nation?”

Starting in 2001, the military services cycled through camouflage patters with monotonous regularity until Congress told them to stop. The most notorious was the Universal Camouflage Pattern which cost $5 billion and failed to conceal soldiers. But it was good news for Army surplus stores everywhere.

And these critics don’t understand the Border Patrol officers typically operate in the chaparral environment on the Southwest border where camouflage is a must. BORTAC has also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — these guys aren’t “Officer Friendly” coaching police athletic league baseball.

Ironically, the military’s disquiet with the Border Patrol may reflect its uneasiness with its own operations on the Southwest border in support of civil agencies attempting to stem narcotics, human trafficking and illegal immigration. The U.S. military feels Southwest border operations pose an "unacceptable risk" to combat readiness, according to then U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. Thus, America may have the only military that thinks defending the border is someone else’s job.

Or maybe they’re feeling competitive — because the Border Patrol unit that also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is doing work the military doesn’t want to do on the Southwest border and is now doing work it doesn’t want to do in Portland.

The Pentagon is the beneficiary of a DOD budget of $740 billion, plus about $20 billion in Department of Energy funds for nuclear weapons, a big chunk of the intelligence community budget of about $80 billion, and $250 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The military is into the American taxpayer for over a trillion dollars a year, so it would be great if it could bestir itself, worry less about another agency’s fashion choices, and voice some support for those defending a federal courthouse — a symbol of equal justice under law.

James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).