17 May 2010

A Raspberry to the Beret

By reputation, the new non-commissioned officer (N.C.O.) in charge of our brigade headquarters company tends toward the "immovable object" school of first-sergeantry, but darned if out of the starting blocks as more of an "irresistible force" type. It's always better to come off tough and gruff at first, I suppose, and then to lighten up as you want and need.

For some administrative reason, the first-sergeant of the brigade headquarters goes to a cavalry-scout soldier. It's a good tradition to have--throughout both Army and 2-34th BCT history, the Cavalry has always enjoyed a hard-charging, fast-moving, where-the-heck-are-they-now kind of reputation.

(You want a Cavalry-filled tale of surprise and disappointment? Just ask Robert E. Lee about J.E.B. Stuart.)

The first-formation of the morning goes off OK. The platoon sergeants and squad leaders are still a little skittish about the new guy, trying to read his drill-and-cermonial habits: How he calls for the attendance report, how he pushes out information, how he executes a hundred little details that every NCO does the same, but that everyone does different.

The formation is short. Before he starts calling names and having people fall out of formation, and into an empty dining facility to conduct a random drug-test, he puts out a "new" headgear policy. Wearing the duty uniform, U.S. soldiers always wear headgear or "cover" when outside--usually a black beret, a billed hat called a "patrol cap" (occasionally called a "duck hunter"), or a Kevlar helmet. The headgear comes off when you go inside--"under cover"--unless, I seem to recall, you're Military Police and armed.

In my experience, the black beret is one of the most reviled articles of clothing in the U.S. Army supply system. A recent Army Times recently featured a front-page exercise in habatrashery. The article says that soldiers want to "dump the beret" as much now as they did when it was first introduced nearly 10 years ago. Unfortunately, without any hard data--it was pointedly based on an unscientific e-mail survey--the article is about as functional as the hot-headed headgear itself.

The beret does not keep your eyes shielded from the sun. It provides little warmth in winter, and is too hot in summer. It requires two hands to successfully attach it to one's head. Its apparent vagaries have generated a multitude of mirrors to be installed near the exits of many military office-buildings. It is worn a hundred different ways, both because soldiers each have differently shaped heads, and because lowest-bid manufacturers fail to achieve a uniform cut. One beret makes you look like a French bread-seller. Another cuts off circulation to the top of your skull.

Back in the 1990s, my National Guard battalion established an affiliation with the 82nd Airborne, a ready-response outfit easily identified by its distinctive maroon beret. Our unit wanted to wear the red beret. The active-duty command wanted us to wear the beret. Our Iowa leaders, citing cost, declined to let us don the supposedly cool headgear.

Looking back on it, we should've thanked them for saying "no." A couple of years later, the whole Army put on the black beret.

My barber laughs when I call my beret the "Jiffy Pop hat"--on windy days, it tends to puff up like foil-packed popcorn. I also call it the "floor buffer." Others call it the "toilet seat cover."

There's a rule in the Iowa Army National Guard that you can't wear your patrol cap "off post"--outside the confines of the military base or field training area. You go outside the gate, and you're supposed to be wearing the beret. I've noticed that, more and more, soldiers are ignoring that rule. They opt for their patrol caps instead. Joe is voting with his head.

Last Saturday, the new first sergeant said headgear philoosphy was that the beret would not be worn when it was "impractical."

"We're all adults," he said in a bold, booming voice. "You can probably figure out when something is 'im-prac-ti-cal'"

In retrospect, I'm not sure Top's guidance all that practical. It fact, it sounds pretty 'subjective,' in an Army that's all about achieving 'objective."

Still, it sure sounded good at the time.


  1. Not (t)hat I'm bragging or anything


  2. A story near and dear to my heart. The Beret is totally less than useless.
    I can't forget our Batt SGM before and after our Iraq AT. He wanted us to wear the Beret with the DCUs!!! (not in Iraq, but at Ft Lewis for the MOB and De-MOB).
    Before going to Iraq, most of us sent our Berets home to have one less item of useless gear to loose. So, when we returned to FT L, we had to go purchase new Berets.
    We were the ONLY unit I ever saw wearing the Black Beret with DCUs.
    We were special, like the special olympics.

  3. While I avoided wearing a black beret with my DCU, I did have to wear an non-USA-colored (sort of like powder-blue, but different) one. Luckily, that was only for ceremonial purposes. Day to day, however, all the multinational contingents wore the same brimmed headgear. Officially called a "Stetson," it could be worn a hundred different ways; each style with its own soldier-generated name.

    Believe it or not, Pax, I wore mine "Aussie," with a kind of slouch-hat flair. (Other style names included "Cowboy," "F-troop," and "Snowy River.")

  4. I can't help but think that the adoption of the beret in the first place way back when was that it was meant to be more of a fashion statement than anything else. We always associate that the Green Berets (thanks to John Wayne), and that's probably where they should have stayed. I can say that if you had two, you could probably come up with a killer game of mini-jai alai.

    Yes, they're very non-functional. Seems to me the patrol cap, or better yet just a baseball cap that could be even worn backwards for when you need to have that "fashion statement" look, or feel the need to break into Bubba mode.

    I say this becomes fodder for an episode of Project Runway. They could re-do the cap issue and also re-do the awful dress blues. I mean, how tacky can one get with that ugly stripe and the mismatched shades of blue.

    None of it works. Both would make Tim Gunn cross his arms and say, "I'm worried."

  5. Somewhere I have a Rising Sun hat badge and I can probably source some Emu feathers.

    I'm not sure either would really improve the Rasberet but it could be worth a try - want to make a fashion statement?



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.