After years of complaints from soldiers, the black wool beret is being replaced by the patrol cap as the standard headgear worn with the Army combat uniform.
The more functional and comfortable patrol cap is now “the primary headgear for all soldiers as the duty uniform headgear,” according to a directive signed June 13 by Army Secretary John M. McHugh.
The black beret became standard headgear in 2001 at the order of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who declared the beret would become “a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence.”
But the berets have never been popular with soldiers. After becoming Army chief of staff in April, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey directed Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III to talk to troops about their uniform preferences. Chandler heard from thousands of soldiers — in the field and through social network sites — who wanted to get rid of the beret as the standard headgear, according to the Army.
Dempsey, who has since been nominated by President Obama to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought the proposal to McHugh, who agreed to make the change effective Tuesday, which was the Army’s 236th birthday.
“The soldiers didn’t like the fact that the beret was hot — it was not something that they wore the majority of the time,” Chandler told the Army News Service. “And they didn’t like the fact it didn’t shade the sun and it took two hands to put on. And they didn’t like to carry two pieces of headgear to do different functions during the day.”
Many troops also believed that issuing the beret to all soldiers watered down the cachet of those earned by members of elite units, including the green berets worn by Special Forces, the black berets worn by Rangers and the maroon berets worn by Airborne. Army Rangers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment began wearing tan berets after the black berets were issued Army-wide.
One former Ranger marched 750 miles on foot from Georgia to Washington in 2001 to protest the change, carrying the black beret that belonged to a Ranger killed in the 1989 invasion of Panama. There was further outrage on Capitol Hill when it was learned that the Army berets were being made in China.
In the years since, the beret never became beloved. When the independent newspaper Army Times asked its readers recently for their thoughts on the subject, more than 300 soldiers of all ranks spoke out in favor of dumping the beret, the newspaper reported.
The black beret is not being eliminated and will continue to be worn with dress uniforms, the Army said. In addition, according to McHugh’s directive, “commanders retain the authority to prescribe the beret for special events such as parades or changes of command or responsibility.”
Soldiers who are authorized to wear the green, tan or maroon beret will continue to do so, according to the Army.
The Army directive also gives soldiers permission to sew their name tags and rank insignia on their uniforms, another change that was requested by troops, who disliked Velcro on their uniforms.
The Army is also planning a change for soldiers assigned to the Pentagon. Instead of wearing the digital-patterned Army combat uniform on a daily basis, soldiers will report to work in the more formal Army service uniform.
“Our perspective is that this is the corporate part of the Army,” Chandler told the Army News Service. “The business part of the Army is done in the Pentagon, and as a professional, there are certain standards of attire associated with certain activities. For the business aspect of the Army, it is the Army service uniform.”
The change could come as early as October, according to Chandler.