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Thursday, October 19, 2000

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Delgado tries on a beret. The Army's
top officer wants all soldiers to wear black berets next year.

Army beret
‘looks good’

But not all approve of it

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki wants all of his soldiers to wear a new symbol of excellence -- black berets -- which is now only issued to elite Ranger units.

Rangers, who had to endure a grueling special training to wear the distinctive black beret, oppose Shinseki's proposal.

At Schofield Barracks, home Master Sgt. Michael O'Dell -- who served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning, Ga. -- said he knows he has to adhere to Shinseki's order, but he doesn't like it.

"I totally disagree," said O'Dell, a 17-year Army veteran.

"It was designed for units that have fulfilled different missions for the Army, speciality missions. ... It was designed for paratroopers, Rangers and Special Forces, not the whole Army."

Army paratroopers now wear maroon berets. Special Forces units don dark green berets.

Shinseki said the change for the Army's 482,662 soldiers will take effect June 14, the Army's birthday.

"When we wear the black beret, it will say that we, the soldiers of the world's best army, are committed to making ourselves even better," Shinseki said this week in a speech to the Association of the United States Army, a booster organization. He said the beret would be a "symbol of unity."

Sgt. Ryan Jackson, 24, said that as a member of the 11th Armored Cavalry at the National Training Center in California, he wore a black beret as part of the distinct uniform issued to his unit.

"We portrayed the OPFOR (opposing forces) and were issued the black beret and brown desert camouflage fatigues," said Jackson.

"It didn't give you much cover from the sun. But it's a good idea. It looks good with the uniform. It's more distinctive and looks more professional."

Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Delgado, who has been in the Army for 15 years, said this will be his third major uniform change.

He saw the Army phase out its tropical khaki uniform, and in 1982 his all-green polyester-cotton fatigues were replaced with the current green and black camouflage battle dress uniform.

"It will be a different look for us," said Delgado, 41, as he reviewed the row of maroon berets at Schofield's military clothing store. No black berets were on sale there yesterday because none of the soldiers there is authorized to wear them while at Schofield. "I definitely will like it."

But Sgt. 1st Class Ellen Herrera remembers when female soldiers were issued black berets as part of their uniform. "Those things were ugly," said Herrera, who has been in the Army for 15 years.

Both men and women soldiers now are issued a green "overseas" hat and the baseball-style "battle dress uniform" cap. Male soldiers also wear the saucerlike "service" cap with their dress green garrison uniform.

Other changes to ease hardships

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki announced other changes this week designed to address complaints that frequent overseas deployments are harming readiness and are creating hardship for soldiers and their families.

He said he wants weekend work eliminated for soldiers while they are in garrison and not in the field, a curtailment of short-term deployments and more four-day weekends on federal holidays.

Shinseki also proposed allowing soldiers with school-age children to change their duty stations only during summer months when school is out, and giving soldiers a year's notice before they are ordered to move.

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