They Wore a Black Ranger Beret

The Kind You Find At The Ranger Joe Store

By Carl S. Ey

Blurb:  Black berets aren’t the answer and they are not the solution and they certainly don’t deserve the attention of the nation’s leadership.

The black beret hasn’t received this much attention since Monica Lewinsky’s beret-wearing mug was plastered all over the nation’s media in that infamous photo of her hugging President Clinton.

When General Eric K. Shinseki announced that the Army would replace the battle dress uniform (BDU) cap with the black beret that is currently worn in Ranger units, it came as a minor shock to soldiers.  Today, it has turned into a political mess that has gained the attention of our commander in chief and found its way onto the front pages of many newspapers.

“Starting next June, the black beret will be symbolic of our commitment to transform the magnificent Army into a new force – a strategically responsive force for the 21st century,” Shinseki said in October, 2000.

Little did the Army’s Chief of Staff know that this decision would gain attention from Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura to former Rangers that decided a 700-mile road march was in order to accentuate a protest against stripping the Rangers of their coveted beret.

However, as this debate unravels, it becomes apparent that the attention it is drawing is ill founded.  Those supporting the protests claim that the beret is part of a long-standing Ranger tradition.   It really isn’t.

Tankers adopted the black beret, first, because they were constantly working in and around tanks.  The black color hid grease stains and the lack of a brim made it easier to maneuver around tank fire control sights.

Furthermore, Army policy allowed local unit commanders to encourage morale building.  As an extension of that policy, Armor and Armed Calvary units wore the black berets until the Army banned all unofficial headgear in 1979.  The units that were permitted to keep their beret were the Army Rangers according to Army Regulation 670-5, January 30, 1975.  So the tradition is less than 26 years old.  To put the Rangers “black beret tradition” into perspective, Nolan Ryan pitched in professional baseball longer than the Rangers have had a tradition.

Secondly, supporters of the Rangers keeping all rights to the black beret indicate that the Rangers are an elite unit.

“Making the beret the headgear of the common soldier will make the beret common, no longer the symbol of uncommon skills, abilities, courage, dedication and tough training that the common soldier does not have and could not survive,” said LTG J.G. MacMillan.

Bascially, according to MacMillan if you aren’t part of the “elite” and haven’t earned the beret, the soldier is common.  Tell that to the 19-year-old G.I. pulling the 4 a.m to 6 a.m.guard duty shift in Bosnia tonight.

Arguably, Ranger school is the toughest leadership school in the United States Army.  To endure and complete Ranger school is an accomplishment worthy of distinction.  Upon graduation, those soldiers are awarded the Ranger tab that will be with them for the remainder of their careers.  But, they do not receive the black beret.  The beret is issued to those soldiers assigned to the Ranger Regiment, which is very basically a light infantry unit.  There are just under 3,000 soldiers in the Ranger Regiment and Ranger Training Brigade today.

If Rangers are the only Army “elite,” how do you qualify the remaining troops with the U.S. Army tape over their left breast? Are they “common” as per MacMillan? How many wars has the “elite” won by themselves without the “common?”

The Army’s home page says, “The Army will be a professionally rewarding and personally enriching environment within which people take pride in being part of the Nation’s most highly esteemed institution.”

As the Nation’s most highly esteemed institution, there isn’t much room for the “common.” All Army soldiers are among the country’s elite and not one soldier should ever resign him or herself to thinking otherwise.

Thirdly, it is inconceivable to consider an Army unit “elite” that does not allow women among its ranks.  Although that is an entirely different debate, it merits consideration when delineating the “elite.”  Soldiers come in both genders and together they make up that “highly esteemed institution.”  It is a bit arrogant of those that support the “black berets for Rangers only” to consider that unit special without female soldiers in their formation.  In main stream society, that is known as sexism, which can further be defined as ignorant.

Finally, those that are protesting the transformation to the black beret for all soldiers that the decision to do so is a window of opportunity for the Ranger Regiment.

“The Army’s elite Ranger units may select a different color for their beret,” said Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Jack L. Tilley.  “We’re going to do what is right for him [75th Ranger Regiment’s Sgt. Maj. Walter Rakow] and what’s good for the rest of the Army.”

The Rangers had a golden opportunity to capitalize and begin a tradition that hopefully will last longer than a baseball player’s career.  Tilley very basically gave the Ranger Regiment a chance to design something that would make them more distinctive.  They could have designed another beret with another noble color such as gray.  Perhaps, they might have created a special boot designed specifically for distinctive wear by Rangers only.

Thinking “outside of the box,” they might have even researched history and found distinctive apparel for their battle dress uniforms that tie them to some of the most historically feared and lethal soldiers to ever do battle on this planet.  Finally, they were in a position to convince the Army’s hierarchy of almost anything with regard to making their uniforms unique in light of the Army’s decision to issue the black beret to all soldiers.

Instead, the commander in chief asked the Secretary of Defense to take time away from other service member’s concerns to look into the black beret decision.  Former Rangers and other soldiers supporting the cause of “black berets for Rangers only” wrote our elected officials and tried to gain support for prohibiting the black beret issue on June 14th.    A few of them even took part in an extended road march that ended this weekend on Capitol Hill.

If only a few former soldiers would take a 700-mile road march to protest sub-par housing and the lack of medical care, real change might be accomplished for the betterment of the Armed Forces.  Just think what a group of veterans that left the Army for better pay and benefits could accomplish if they all wrote their congressional representative.