U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: November 13, 2001
Specialist belts general officers
Natick, Mass. --- Kimberly Arnold has belted hundreds of Army generals the past 10 years as an inventory management specialist at the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command's (SBCCOM) Integrated Materiel Management Center-Philadelphia.
Arnold is responsible for maintaining and distributing general officer kits and VIP flags. She's also the person who sizes new brigadier generals for their general officer belt. What she knows is not top secret, but it's also not public knowledge. It's not slanderous information, but for some, if the information became public, it could lead to embarrassment.
"There are some generals who hold in their stomachs, and that is when I pat them on the belly and tell them to let out the air," said Arnold, who measures generals attending the annual one-week Brigadier General Conference. "We used to have the general's aide call in with the general's waist size, but we found that the generals were fibbing about their actual size."
When a colonel is nominated for promotion to brigadier general, she sends him or her an Army-mandated kit that contains an indoor flag, outdoor flag, U.S. flag, poles, cases, and auto plate and flag for their vehicle. Before the annual conference, where they learn all about being a general officer, she makes sure every general has a kit.
"The generals really look forward to getting their kits before the conference," Arnold said. "One general actually said that receiving his kit was like opening a Christmas present from the Army."
The history of the general's belt dates back to World War II. Arnold explained that in 1943, the Army Chief of Staff wanted generals to look dressed up, so he ordered the issue of belts.
The Chief of Staff believed this belt would be used by all general officers when carrying a sidearm, except when going into combat.
The thick black leather belt with an 18-karat gold-plated buckle with an imprint of an eagle was first made in 1944, and added a dressier touch to the khaki shirt and trousers. Now the occasion for wearing it, and the uniform the belt is worn with, are at the discretion of each general officer.
Because too many belts were being returned for being too big or too small, which became costly in shipping expenses, Arnold suggested she attend the conferences to measure the generals in person.
She said some have brought her cookies in the hope of getting an extra belt. A few times she's had generals compare belts and then try to get a different one because the holes were too close or far apart, or because the stitching was loose or uneven.
"Now we have generals worried that their belt is too hard or too soft," she said. "It's funny really. I know it's because they're so excited, and they want everything to be just perfect, so I don't mind."
She's still amused to see the first few generals who are really excited to get their belt and show it off to the others who haven't yet been sized. Some straggle in at the end. They want the belt but don't want to be sized in view of the others because they don't want to reveal their true belt size, said Arnold.
Generals who don't show up are mailed a belt, but it usually needs to be returned because it's the wrong size. She sizes about 100-150 generals per year, with a waist span ranging from 28-44 inches. The most popular sizes are 38-40.
"It's not really as big as it seems because the end number is really their waist size plus two-inches; it gives them room to grow or shrink," she said.
Her dedication to the job was apparent when she flew to the conference last October while recovering from a back injury bad enough to keep her home bedridden on doctor's orders. She knew it was the time when all her work for the year would pay off.
"I couldn't let them down. They look forward to meeting me there," said Arnold, a 17-year government employee. "I didn't want anyone else to do it because people don't do your job like you do it. I guess it's because I really feel honored to be in a position to serve important customers, and to get the job done well."
Besides belts and general's kits, she also takes care of VIP flags for positions such as the president, vice president, secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff. The president's and vice president's flags are hand-embroidered and cost approximately $8,000-$11,000. Other VIP flags are now machine-sewn to cut costs. By comparison, general flags cost roughly $100.
Nicknamed "Flag Lady," Arnold said she most enjoys seeing the VIP flags displayed. "I do have to say that it is really great working for and with these men and women. I really feel honored to be in a position to serve such important, high-ranking customers."
For more information about SBCCOM, please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.