To Battle We Go: Having One Form

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

One of the most difficult things for a trainee to comprehend when joining the military is the obsession with wearing the uniform, and wearing it correctly. Even for those who dress smartly as civilians – I was not among them – the adjustment can be jarring.

The new uniforms I was issued in the first days of basic training had dozens of barely visible sewing threads coming out of the seams that I didn’t notice at first. Our drill sergeants, however, saw them quite clearly, referring to them as “ropes”, as in “what is that rope doing on your uniform, trainee?” We soon learned to burn off these threads with a Bic lighter to avoid their wrath.

We spent hours learning to properly wear our uniforms, where to place insignia, how to wear our various caps, and most famously perhaps, how to polish brass and shine boots and shoes. After a few weeks, we got the hang of it, but we did more pushups for uniform violations than for any other reason.

Why does the military care so much about uniforms? First, the uniform sets apart its members from the public at large. They are members of a specialized force who have volunteered to serve, giving up some of their constitutional rights, and even sacrificing their lives if necessary.

Second, the uniform represents unity, the literal “having one form” so important in enabling a unit to accomplish its mission. Looking the same – uniform, haircut, posture, even facial expression – is a big step toward being of the same mind, and being equally dedicated to the unit and the mission no matter personal differences.

Finally, uniforms are designed for a specific job or mission, and not just for show. Camouflage uniforms provide cover and concealment by blending in with the surroundings. Sailors wear dungarees when they are doing the dirty work of operating and maintaining a ship. There are even “dress” uniforms, suitable for nothing except ceremonies and balls, but surprisingly important to the espirit de corps of the military.

The uniform serves many of the same purposes for The Salvation Army, even though we have a different mission. Like all believers, Salvationists are set apart from non-believers, but we are also set apart somewhat from the majority of our fellow believers because of our unique role within the church universal. We seek the lost wherever they are, and in whatever condition we may find them, and we willingly sacrifice our lives to this mission.

The uniform, along with a few other symbols and distinctives like our flag, our quasi-military structure, and our music, also unifies Salvationists around the world no matter our many differences, because it represents that mission. When we see images of uniformed Salvationists on the front lines anywhere, we feel an instant kinship with them. They are our brothers and sisters in the fight.

Finally, our uniform (in all its many variations) is well designed for the mission. Just the sight of it can bring comfort to those in need, because they know that spiritual and physical help is at hand. If we’re truly on mission we will certainly get some mud on our uniforms (sometimes literally), so we may have to clean up a bit to be ready for our “dress” occasions like the Sunday morning service. But whatever we are doing in uniform, we should wear it smartly, because we are representing not just our Army, but Jesus Christ and His kingdom.