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Army's New Uniform Code Intended to Boost Morale

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By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2000; 1:02 PM

All U.S. Army soldiers – including the clerks and the cooks and not just Special Forces commandos and Rangers – will get to wear berets under a morale-building moved to be announced by the Army command today.

In a speech set to be delivered this afternoon, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, will tell an Army convention that this "symbol of excellence" once reserved for members of elite units will be made available to all soldiers as "a signal to the young that we are moving, we are changing."

Shinseki previewed his speech in an interview, saying the details of the new uniform code are still to be worked out and will not go into effect until next June.

What color berets?

That was one of the biggest questions pending late last night as the chief's speechwriters scurried to finish his presentation. The Rangers wear black berets. The Special Forces wear green and the Airborne wear maroon. And those are the only berets the Army has at this point.

Shinseki said he certainly was not going to make those proud units change their headgear, so the question is whether one of them would have to share their beret color with say, the chaplin assistants. Or will the Army have to come up with a another color altogether for regular units?

This is not a small matter given that the members of the elite units prize their berets as symbols of a hard-won honor.

Shinseki said the announcement will come in a speech updating the Army on a major reform initiative he launched last year at the same gathering, the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. That address sparked widespread debate and not a little dissension within the Army when Shinseki said he thought the Army would have to abandon its beloved tank treads in favor of wheels for armored units in the near future.

The wheels-versus-treads issue remains unresolved, and Shinseki said he was not going to break new ground on that subject today. Instead he undoubtedly will launch what will become the berets-versus-caps debate.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company