There’s a fashion trend sweeping the globe.
Maybe you’ve seen it yourself, deployed troops, or perhaps family and friends in the States, wearing colored cord bracelets. You wonder, Where’d they get that? What’s the story behind it? After all, its not everyday you see soldiers wearing bracelets.
It’s called the 550 cuff and it’s taking bases by storm.
The bracelet is made of 550, or parachute, cord, a common item in many supply tents.
Its original use was for parachute suspension lines during World War II. Today, however, the cord has taken on a whole new symbolic and comforting meaning for soliders and their family members.
While its current primary use is to secure camouflage netting and khaki shade nets, troops are also using it to make an emblematic fashion statement by creating 550 cuffs.
“I see it as growing phenomenon,” said Army Specialist Jeremy Thurman, deployed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Thurman, assigned to E Company, 7th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, said his son and daughter were ecstatic when he sent bracelets to them.
“They want more,” he explained. “I’ve been trying to make more for them. I love doing it. It keeps me busy through this deployment.”
The popular cuff-making trend began in Southwest Asia, where the cord was first offered to the troops for free. The idea has been widely adopted and custom racks are being assembled to hold the 1000-foot rolls of cord.
Today you can find troops around the world wearing the 550 cuffs in a variety colors.
“I see it two ways—style and convenience,” explained Army Sergeant Carlos Diaz, also stationed in Kandahar. “Style because they come in so many colors, and convenience because when soldiers are deployed they take 550 cord.”
But the cuff is not only a fashion statement and a convenient necessity. For many soldiers, there’s a meaning behind it.
“They are symbolic to me because it makes me feel good that I am sending these out to people and showing them we support you guys for supporting us,” said Thurman. “Here’s something we do for you when we have some free time. I think people enjoy that, too.”
Sergeant Diaz tries to make a bracelet every other day.
“Its a symbolic gift to myself and my family, knowing its handmade from us. It’s a circle, so it all comes around full circle,” he explained. “As soon as I gave one to my dad he said he pretty much never takes it off.”
Sarah Kemp is a volunteer coordinator for USO Kandahar in Afghanistan, and helps out with the 550 cuffs program. She wears her cuffs every day and said she sees friendships being made as soldiers sit around and talk while they make them.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to take moments out of their day,” she explained. “They get a chance to use their hands to make something for their family. Here’s a way to show them, I’m thinking about you and took a minute out of my day to make this for you.”
“I’ve had a solider come up to me and say, ‘I’ve made one for my wife and now all five of my kids want one, so I need your help,’” she said.
Troops have a choice when making the 550 cuffs. They can use the two-string or three-string method.
“I’m learning a three string technique,” Thurman explained.
It takes a few tries to perfect the technique, but with practice, each bracelet takes between 15 and 20 minutes to make, Thurman said.
“The bracelets are nearly almost always fastened with buttons cut from old uniforms, but sometimes soldiers will cut buttons off the pants they’re wearing at the moment,” Richard McCarty, USO Kandahar center manager said.
Whether it’s a symbol of convenience or style, one thing is for sure—the 550 cuffs are turning the troops into trendsetters, and for many, it won’t stop once they get home from deployment.
“I plan on wearing them when I come home from deployment,” Diaz said. “I’ll still be making them and donating them.”
Ashley Bernardi is a Virginia-based freelance writer.