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The bro vet’s guide to tactical-casual wear

Man with long hair wearing sunglasses and green vest

Vets don’t often take criticism very well. One caveat is the good-natured, self-deprecating, mockery that comes from within the community. The Global War on Terrorism (or if you prefer, the Long War or Never Ending Wars) have presented us with an archetype we now know as the “Bro Vet”. The Bro Vet is a making of our own doing, and he isn’t going away.

So that you all can “get with the program”, here is the Bro Vet’s Guide to Tactical-Casual wear:

Pants

There’s a prominent brand of tactical pants that will cost you a healthy portion of your VA disability claim, and there are affordable options as well. Either way, the base of your tactical casual attire must be built around a pair of pants that are made of a wicking, stain-resistant, performance fabric, with multi-pockets. The pants shouldn’t be camouflage, but rather from the narrow palette of subdued earth tones including khaki, olive drab, coyote tan, black or gray. The front pockets should be reinforced to prevent fraying from the clip of your pocket knife. Cargo pockets or back pockets should be deep enough to accommodate an AR-15 magazine. The pants are required to be paired with a study nylon belt of complimentary color.

Hat

You are required to wear a hat, but you don’t have to remove it indoors. (You’ve done your time! Thumb your nose to the oppressive rules and exercise the freedom for which you so proudly fought.) You should remove it for playing of the National Anthem, a funeral, or a prayer. The hat should be a ball cap of camo pattern or the aforementioned color palette. The most prominent selection will be an American flag patch, but pretty much any Velcro patch will do. It can be a “Regular Guy” tab, a unit emblem, or one of the many morale patches such as “Embrace the Suck.” A good humble brag option is just a plain cap with no patch on the fuzz. It leaves folks wondering exactly what kind of operator you were.

T-Shirt

A good t-shirt speaks volumes. It advertises affiliation, supports veteran-owned businesses and communicates political preferences. A bad-ass t-shirt will generally be black or olive drab. It can have a skull, a flag, a rifle or a pithy quip. Among the endless options are: “Okay with violence,” “I don’t have a PhD but I have a DD-214” and “LalaFallujah, Spring Break 2004.”  A simple “Combat Vet,” “Semper Fi” or “Grunt”is also quite acceptable. Long sleeve options include anything worn by Bear Grylls or sold at REI.

Grooming

Facial hair is required. While in uniform you had to shave every day, while envying the special operations guys who somehow justified growing blonde Viking beards to blend in with the Taliban (?). Now that you are enjoying your freedom back on the block, reflect your manliness and maturity with a beard. A goatee is acceptable and the new Top Gun movie seems to have revived enthusiasm for the mustache, but the full beard is preferred. A few vets opt for unkempt, long hair but most folks revert to a military regulation haircut. This combined with the beard is the ubiquitous Bro Vet look.

Knife

You must carry a pocket knife at all times. This is a reflection of your preparedness. It should be a knife that can be opened with a quick flick of your thumb. It could be used to cut the seatbelt of a victim from a burning car crash or to defend yourself from a mugger; but more than likely it will be used to open Amazon packages of your recent tactical purchase.

Sunglasses

Probably Oakleys, definitely ballistic lenses. Enough said.

Go bag

The tactical backpack smothered in patches is another must have. Alleged to be packed with various self-reliance implements so that you can bug out on a moment’s notice. At a minimum it should include ammo, a flashlight, warming layers, a multi-tool, snacks, a first aid kit and a water source. Don’t forget an energy drink and some tobacco. Bonus points if it’s the same pack you carried “in country.” You don’t have to carry the pack all the time but it must be staged in your vehicle for quick access.

Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Young.

Bracelet

You’ve got two options for your Bro Vet bracelet. The generic choice is a braided paracord bracelet secured with a button from a set of cammies. You can tell folks it serves as an emergency source of 550 cord for a quick repair. Once again you show your preparedness mindset. The more common choice is the engraved, metallic bracelet commemorating someone killed in action. This is the most sentimental feature of Bro Vet tactical casual look. It’s even worn by veterans who don’t personally know a KIA. Various affiliations such as hometown, unit or someone who held your MOS have been rationale for selecting a fallen warrior to remember.

Shemagh

The shemagh, also known as the keffiyeh or Arab scarf, is a simple yet efficient way to protect your face and neck from sun, wind, and sand. The die-hard Bro Vet will wear an olive drab or coyote tan version of this in lieu of a regular scarf in cold weather, or in an attempt to bridge the gap with the bougie hipsters. Most Bro Vets have one, but rarely wear it.

A can of dip

The final touch on the Bro Vet tactical casual exhibition is to always have a can of dip (smokeless tobacco) on you. You have several pockets in which to store the can. A few minutes into a conversation you casually pull out the can, and with a flick of the wrist, thump the can a few times to pack it. After inserting a big lipper, offer a dip to your acquaintance and smirk condescendingly when they decline. You’ve subtly asserted your dominance and could care less what nasty civilians think.

Footwear has been left off of the Bro Vet tactical casual paraphernalia as it can range from old combat boots to hiking boots to camouflaged Crocs or simple flip flops. Take an approving look in the mirror before you head out to tell people they are welcome for your service.

Not all veterans are as noticeable as the Bro Vet. Some look like just another face in the crowd. However, there are times when you need to look the part. Occasions like Veterans Day, Memorial Day or the release of a vaguely military themed action movie are just the right instances. When those times come the Bro Vet’s guide to tactical casual listed above will put you on target.

This article was originally posted on We Are The Mighty.

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