Morale: Black Beret Blues

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April 20, 2009: U.S. Army troops are becoming more energetic and vocal in efforts to get rid of the black beret they have been forced to wear for the past eight years. Back in 2000, the U.S. Army commander (Chief Of Staff) general Eric Shinseki ordered that the black beret replace the traditional billed cap (which had been used for nearly a century). Shinseki believed the black beret would be a symbol of excellence, reflecting the overall professionalism of the entire Army. He believed the black beret would repair the (largely nonexistent) divisions created by the use of different color berets in some units (red for airborne, green for special forces, black for rangers). Shinseki also believed that, because black berets are (everywhere but in the United States ) worn by armor troops, and in the U.S. by Rangers, the new headgear would reflect a merger of both light and heavy forces. This was a non-issue to most troops. Shinseki also insisted that selecting the color black was not intended as an insult to the Rangers (who were, and still believe that this was exactly what was intended) but was simply the best color to match the battle dress uniform (BDU). This, despite the fact that there is no longer any black in the BDU. Shinseki also wanted to create a "world class uniform" that would be respected by foreigners who came into contact with US troops. But American troops associate the beret with armies that tend to lose (especially the French) and consider it no great honor.

Then there are practical issues. The beret is made of wool, and requires more care to keep it presentable. Even at that, no one can agree on exactly how one should wear it. The damn thing is made of wool, and is uncomfortable in warm weather. Since it has no bill, it provides no shade for the eyes when troops have to stand in formation. It also costs twice as much as the patrol cap (the baseball cap live headgear, that is the same pattern as the BDU and is soft and light). But for many formations and occasions, the troops must wear the beret, instead of the patrol cap. Most troops would prefer to use the patrol cap, in camo or monotone versions, instead of the beret.

From the beginning, the black beret was very unpopular. Surveys quickly revealed that the majority of the troops were hostile to the head gear change. But Shinsheki went forward anyway. Current and former rangers, and many members of Congress, appealed to president Bush to reverse the policy back then. But September 11, 2001 came along before Bush could do anything, and the beret issue has been pushed into the background ever since.

But now the troops feel they have won one war, and are on their way to winning another, and would like to get some relief from those damn, stupid berets.

 


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