If there’s one accessory that’s become synonymous with the post-9/11 generation of troops, it has to be the nonsensical PT belt. It’s that bright, neon green, reflective band that you see wrapped around every troop when they go out for a jog.
Honestly, it seems like some big wig at the Pentagon must have thought it was funny in an ironic sort of way to make all troops who’re wearing camouflage fatigues put on a bright, shiny, eye-catching belt. Military doctrine isn’t made on a whim and, usually, there’s a lot more at play than meets the eye, but the actual reason behind wearing the belt is a perfect example of someone listening to the “Good Idea Fairy” instead of reason.
In all fairness to the glow belt, it does help troops be seen at night. That doesn’t mean that’s the solution to vehicular manslaughter, however.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Zachary Wolf)
Prior to the 90s, troops didn’t wear any sort of reflective clothing during morning PT. Instead, for safety, troops conducted PT on roads that were blocked off in the mornings to avoid any potential accidents with civilian drivers. Unfortunately, the scenario didn’t play out as installation commanders hoped and fatalities would happen occasionally.
The first step in preventing these unfortunate deaths was to create more reflective PT uniforms — without abandoning the military appearance, of course. A few designs were tested, but the luminescence would consistently lose its luster after a few runs through the laundry.
So, rather than holding the manufacturers accountable for making a sub-par product, the Army used reflective armbands, reflective vests, before, finally, adapting the the widespread PT belt. Initially, this was more of a Band-Aid solution to a large problem.
It’s funny how everyone of ranks of E-7, O-2, and below unanimously hate the belts, but as soon as you make rank, you suddenly laud their effectiveness…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ethan Morgan)
Then came a horrible incident on Lackland Air Force Base in 1996 in which several airmen were struck by a moving vehicle during a morning run. Rather than installing a traffic light or determining what, exactly, was to blame, the Air Force pulled the trigger and made the new reflective belts mandatory.
The rest of the branches soon followed suit because it gave the commanders an out when creating Risk Management Assessments. Rather than taking an analytical look at serious and tragic incidents, the commanders could cut themselves out of the accountability equation by making everyone wear reflective bets.
(Comic by AF Blues)
In short, the solution of “add a PT belt” was a lazy answer to a complicated question that resulted in horrible accidents. Vehicles hitting pedestrians in the motor pool was another problem addressed by adding a PT belt instead of figuring out why so many accidents were happening — after all, do the belts even have any real effect in broad daylight?
This sort of irresponsible risk management solution has since become the biggest running joke in the military.
“Going into combat? Don’t forget your PT belt!” “Picking someone up from the local bars? Don’t forget your PT belt!” “Jumping out of a C-130 without a parachute? It’s fine so long as you wear your PT belt!”