FORT LEE, Va. (April 9, 2015) -- The Quartermaster School's shower, laundry, and clothing repair course recently taught the last lessons of a craft that has been around for thousands of years.
Sewing, a waning domestic practice for the past 50 years, saw its final days in the shower, laundry, and clothing repair, or SLCR, classrooms during the first week of April, when stitching lessons were taught for the last time to a class of 13 Soldiers.
"I hate to see it go away," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Williams, a course instructor-writer. "It is still something I see as necessary in the military. We're losing an asset."
For the record, sewing (referred to as renovation in Army terminology) as a function still has a presence in the operational Army, said Williams, but it will no longer be a part of the course's program of instruction. From an institutional standpoint, sewing remains a part of the program of instruction, or POI, for rigger course students, who are required to mend parachutes.
Shower, laundry, and clothing repair, or military occupational specialty 92S, as well as the rigger course, MOS 92R, are taught under the quartermaster school's aerial delivery and field services department.
Sewing's removal from 92S instruction will result in a time savings of 10 days, which will be allotted to teaching the container batch laundry system.
Pvt. Jacquelyn Palacio, a 92S advanced individual training Soldier, who just missed the last clothing repair class, said she was disappointed she was not afforded the opportunity to receive the instruction. She eagerly offered a cultural perspective on why the acquisition of such a skill is important.
"You're finding in households that mothers no longer know how to sew, so they are not teaching their daughters or sons, for that matter," said the 22-year-old, Indianapolis native, who admitted she looked forward to learning how to machine sew. "At the end of the day, everything is temporary. The only thing that is solid is what you build … I feel like sewing is a necessary life skill."
Like Palacio, many of the Soldiers in the last class selected the 92S MOS to learn to sew. Pvt. Marc Orta, a student in the last renovation class, said his grandmother was a seamstress, and he grew up watching her work.
"I never really learned how to sew, but I was always interested," said the 20-year-old from Yuma, Arizona. He said he owns a medium-duty sewing machine. "I was very excited to know we would be working with the same type of machines and doing the same type of work."
At least one Soldier in the graduating class not only sees sewing as a valuable skill, but feels an obligation to share it with those without the skill.
"I feel like I have a huge responsibility as a future Soldier," said Pfc. Levon White, a 21-year-old from Compton, Calif., and Orta's classmate. "Not many of the Sierras are going to know this job, and they're going to be looking to me for help."
The decision to remove clothing repair from the POI is a sign it will face an eventual death in the operational Army, said White, but he is not worried about the skill disappearing anytime soon. "It's a skill that will always be needed so, I feel like I will always be able to apply it," he said.
There is still a demand for sewing on nametapes, patches and service stripes. Soldiers, assigned to renovation units, perform those services free of charge, saving each Soldier the roughly $30 it would cost elsewhere, Orta said. "Privates don't make a lot so the fact that they're taking it away from us means we have to spend more money," he said.
Although the skill survives, technology is a looming threat. For example, the use of Velcro-like materials have been an option for Soldiers to affix nametapes and patches to the Army Combat Uniform since it was issued nearly a decade ago, reducing the demand for sewn-ons.
Add to that personnel reductions and budget cuts and it amounts to a skill phase-out, said Kraig Weaver, chief, Field Services Division.
"They [administrators] felt as though there is a sufficient system in place to exchange or repair uniforms," he said. "They feel the services can be contracted out at a lower cost."
Sewing as an military occupational specialty, or MOS, has been around for decades. It was a stand-alone MOS (43M - fabric repair specialist) until 2001, when it was merged with 57E, shower and laundry specialist, to become 92S.
Despite the decision to remove renovation from the POI, there is still a great demand for the full spectrum of renovation services in the operational Army, said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert E. Townes Jr., command sergeant major, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 593rd Sustaimment Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"There are those who think renovation deals mostly with Soldier's uniforms -- sewing nametapes, etc.," said the Army's senior 92S, emphasizing SLCR specialists also have the capability to repair tents, vehicle canvases and other light textiles. He said a 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion unit is an example of how diverse the renovation business is.
"It's predominately uniforms, but a lot of it is making alterations to ruck sacks and assault packs and repairing tents and the canvases on Humvee doors," he said. "We are really soliciting the rest of the installation that we can provide repairs. It started slow but has really taken off."
The repair capability has saved Soldiers and units somewhere around $400,000 on Joint Base Lewis- McChord during the past year, Townes said. "We are one of the few units doing this and having success with it," he said.
Despite what his unit has accomplished, Townes said in-house renovation services could disappear in about two years. He said the scheduled deactivation of two of the four remaining field service elements will almost seal clothing repair's fate. Change is never easy, he said.
"The only thing that likes to see change is a baby," said Townes, making light of the situation. "It is what it is."
Like Townes, Master Sgt. JennyAnne Bright said she is resigned to the inevitable but understands the road map the Army has charted for her MOS.
"I think it is something the Army really needs," said the 92S course manager, "but I know the Army is trying to shape us into something else. We're growing our 92 Sierras to do other things."
Stay tuned, she said.