Thursday, May 3, 2001

From the beginning, the Army's plan to order black berets for
all its soldiers has been controversial. Above, former Army Ranger
Christopher Willis of Georgia joined colleagues in March in
Washington to protest the Army's decision.

Hawaii troops
send back their
share of berets

Army reservists are under
orders to return caps
'Made in China'

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Of the 618,000 Chinese-made black berets the Pentagon now says must be returned, at least 1,400 of them were in warehouses at Fort Shafter ready to be handed out to Army Reservists here and in American Samoa.

Lt. Col. Howard Sugai, spokesman for the Army Reserve in the Pacific, said 3,400 new berets were shipped to Hawaii about three weeks ago.

"About 1,400 were made in China or Sri Lanka," Sugai said.

The rest came from a Canadian manufacturer.

Now Army Reserve officials have orders to box up all 3,400 and ship them back to Fort Dix in New Jersey.

The move comes after a memo issued Tuesday from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that stated, "The Army chief of staff has determined that U.S. troops shall not wear berets made in China or berets made with Chinese content."

Rather than allow U.S. troops to wear these wool caps, the Army has ordered that they be disposed of, probably by selling them to military surplus stores. The caps cost taxpayers about $6.50 each.

Last year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki decided that all soldiers, except paratroopers and Special Forces soldiers, would wear black berets beginning June 14, the Army's birthday.

That raised complaints from Army Rangers, which were the only unit allowed to wear black berets. Shinseki later accepted a Ranger offer to switch from black to tan berets.

The Defense Logistics Agency said it had to use foreign manufacturers to meet the demand for 4.8 million berets. However, lawmakers were unhappy with the military's decision to use Chinese manufacturers.

Sugai said the Army Reserve here has not been told when they would get a new supply of berets for its 3,400 soldiers.

Neither has the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The Army's goal is to get as many berets issued by June 14 as possible, said Lt. Col. Paul Hilton, who is coordinating the plan to get berets to soldiers.The Army is talking about phasing in the issuance of the berets, taking as long as November.

The 25th Infantry Division said it has been told that its 17,000 berets will be shipped to Schofield Barracks on Aug. 20.

The Army said that 618,000 black berets had been contracted to a British firm, Kangol Ltd., that subcontracted to produce the berets in China. About half of those had been delivered.

Three contracts were canceled with U.S. companies that had beret factories in Romania, South Africa and India.

The three remaining companies that will produce the berets are Bancroft Cap Co. in Cabot, Ark., Dorothea Knitting in Canada and C.W. Headdress, a British company in Sri Lanka.

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