The cover story to this week’s Army Times says it all: “Dump the Beret”!! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve hated this infernal wool contraption since it was invented.
When I first joined the Army, I was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (OPFOR) at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, CA. I spent six years wearing the black beret and was so excited when, in 2001, I would be going to another unit where I could wear the patrol cap. Then, General Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff at the time, had the biggest brain fart in military history and decided the entire Army should look as good as the 11th ACR (or Rangers, if you want to pretend they also wore it) and mandated that on the Army’s birthday in 2001 we would ceremoniously switch to hot, black wool from the more comfortable (and utilitarian) patrol cap! Why? “The black beret will be symbolic of our commitment to transform this magnificent Army into a new force – a strategically responsive force for the 21st century.” No, really, that’s a quote from General Shinseki!
Everyone hated the idea. Sure, you had the required leadership “praise” and “support” for the beret, but that is what we’re supposed to do. We were told that the Army will learn to accept it and all the bellyaching will go away. Well, here we are ten years later and Soldiers STILL hate it from the lowest ranks to the highest. Troops come up with all sorts of excuses to wear the patrol cap and bend the rules. EVERY SINGLE DAY I find myself correcting someone about wearing the patrol cap in a Garrison environment. The only good thing about the beret is that since its inception, Soldiers actually LOOK FORWARD to going to the motor pool because they can wear their patrol cap there. Then they try to extend the boundaries of the motor to wear it longer. “Sergeant, I’m just walking to my car from the motor pool.” Never mind that they parked 20 miles away so they could walk longer in it!
The Army should be embarrassed that we’ve carried on this charade as long as we have. Hell, we’ve gone through two other uniform changes since the beret was introduced and not ONE change to our embarrassingly ridiculous headgear. The patrol cap provided a standard of wear. Look at this photo:
All the Soldiers are uniform in their wear and appearance of the patrol cap. There’s a single way to wear the thing and it doesn’t involve shaving or forming and doesn’t change shape depending on the wind into the Swedish Chef hat!!
Sometimes, however, they wear the damn beret differently! It’s an eyesore in formations. It doesn’t mean they’re wearing it wrong, it’s just that they come made so different – even with the same manufacturer – that you never know what you’re getting.
When I first got to Fort Hood, I needed a new beret (because I accidentally packed all mine!). I now have five berets in my car because they were all crap in some way. One looks like a woobie blanket for my head, keeping my ears nice and tucked in case of a freak Texas snow storm. One doesn’t even fold past the leather liner of the rim. One simply won’t form and looks like something the balloon boy floated away in. I ended up paying a LOT of money for a pre-shaped, pre-shaved beret from one of those Korean seamstresses scattered all over military towns.
I can’t find a Soldier who likes the beret that actually has a real job in the Army! I’m not talking about someone that never sees beyond his desktop pen organizer and paper clip magnet box, I mean anyone that actually has to wear the damn thing more than 20 minutes a day. It doesn’t keep the sun out of your eyes. It doesn’t keep your head warm. It’s hot in the summers and causes heads to break out. I’m convinced its responsible for impotence in men and lack of estrogen in women. The one thing it DOES do good is take away the attention from those awful Army BCGs.