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Black United States Army beret

030011Z NOV 00


The Army must change to maintain its relevance for the evolving strategic environment. To provide our Nation strategic options for mastering the complexity of that environment, The Army committed, in its Vision a year ago, that "as technology allows, we will begin to erase the distinctions between heavy and light forces." In the United States Army, the beret has become a symbol of excellence of our specialty units. Soldiers of the Special Forces, our airborne units, and the Ranger Regiment have long demonstrated such excellence through their legendary accomplishments and unmatched capabilities. Their deployability, versatility, and agility are due, in part, to their organizational structure and equipment. But more significant is their adaptiveness, which keeps them ready to take on any mission, anytime, anyplace.

Today, the distinctive emblem of these units is the wear of the beret. But, over the past 50 years, berets have been worn by a variety of Army formations--airborne, armor, cavalry, infantry, ranger, special forces, and others. The black beret was being worn by formations Army-wide, when it was approved by the Army for wear by the Ranger Regiment in 1975. Today, it remains one of our symbols of excellence in The Army as reflected by its wear in the Ranger Regiment.

We are transforming today's most powerful Army in the world from a Cold War Legacy Force to an Objective Force with early entry capabilities that can operate jointly, without access to fixed forward bases, and still have the power to slug it out and win campaigns decisively (Intent, June 1999). This Transformation will correct the condition in today's Legacy Force where our heavy forces are too heavy, and our light forces lack staying power. To master this strategic transition and to establish the parameters for decisiveness in the 21st century, The Army must become adaptive to be strategically responsive and dominant across the entire spectrum of military operations.

To symbolize The Army's commitment to transforming itself into the Objective Force, The Army will adopt the black beret for wear Army-wide. It is not about increasing recruiting; we achieved our recruiting target of 180,000 recruits last year--without a beret. It is not about retention; for the second year in a row, we exceeded our reenlistment goal by a wide margin--without a beret. It is not about morale; Soldiers are ready today to go into harm's way. It is about our excellence as Soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an institution.

Effective 14 June 2001, the first Army birthday in the new millennium, the black beret will become standard wear in The Army--Active and Reserve Components. Sergeant Major of the Army Tilley will lead the effort to craft implementing guidelines, including indoctrination standards that all Soldiers will meet before they are authorized to wear the beret. Special operations and airborne units will retain their distinctive berets.

Soldiers remain the centerpiece of our formation. We will march into the next millennium as The Army--the strategic joint force of choice for the 21st century.


A Short History of the Use of Berets in the U.S. Army

  • Green Beret. During World War II, US Army Special Forces personnel wore a variety of headgear during their operations as members of special operations units. Those who served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Europe often adopted whatever headgear their French or Belgian Resistance compatriots wore. This was often a beret, since many of the OSS teams served in France. The beret, worn in a variety of styles and colors, showed even up on OSS personnel in the Far East. Many of the first members of the US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), formed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in June 1952, were veterans of the OSS. Berets of various types and colors began being worn unofficially as early as 1954 on the unit's field exercises in Germany and at Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, North Carolina. The color green was favored because it was reminiscent of the World War II British Commando-type beret that had been adopted by the Commandos on 24 October 1942. After testing in 1955, the 77th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg specified, still unofficially, that its soldiers wear a beret of Canadian Army design in rifle green. Special Forces personnel in Europe in the 10th Special Forces Group (A) simultaneously adopted a green beret, even wearing it publicly with the Army class A uniform, despite the lack of official approval. Special Forces troopers first wore the green beret publicly at Fort Bragg during a retirement parade in 1955. In 1957, however, the Fort Bragg post commander banned the wearing of the beret. This ban was reversed on 25 September 1961 by DA Message 578636, which authorized the green beret as the official Army headgear to be worn by Special Forces. The first official wearing of the newly authorized green beret was at a Special Forces demonstration staged for President John F. Kennedy at Fort Bragg on 12 October 1961. President Kennedy was instrumental in the approval by DA of the green beret for US Special Forces. Currently, all Special Forces-qualified soldiers wear the green beret with the authorized flash of their Special Forces Group.
  • Black Beret. The tradition of wearing black berets began with armored units. In 1924 the British Royal Tank Regiment adopted the first modern military beret, based on the Scottish highland bonnet and French Bretonne beret. The regiment selected the headgear for its practicality--brimless for use with armored vehicle fire control sights and black to hide grease stains. In the US Army, HQDA policy from 1973 through 1979 permitted local commanders to encourage morale-enhancing distinctions, and Armor and Armored Cavalry personnel wore black berets as distinctive headgear until CSA Bernard W. Rogers banned all such unofficial headgear in 1979. Rangers received authorization through AR 670-5, Uniform and Insignia, 30 January 1975, to wear black berets. Previously, locally authorized black berets had been worn briefly by the 10th Ranger Company (Airborne), 45th Infantry Division, during the Korean War before their movement to Korea; Company F (LRP), 52d Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, in 1967 in the Republic of Vietnam; Company H (Ranger), 75th Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division, in 1970 in the Republic of Vietnam; and Company N (Ranger), 75th Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade, in 1971 in the Republic of Vietnam.
  • Maroon Beret. The maroon beret has been the international symbol of airborne forces since its selection for use by the British Parachute Regiment in 1942. The color reportedly was chosen by novelist Daphne Du Maurier, the wife of the British airborne commander, MG Frederick Browning. In 1943 MG Browning granted a battalion of the US Army's 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment honorary membership in the British Parachute Regiment and authorized them to wear British maroon berets. US Army advisers to Vietnamese airborne forces wore the Vietnamese maroon beret during the Vietnam War. In addition, after HQDA encouraged the unofficial use of morale-enhancing headgear in 1973, airborne forces chose to wear the maroon international parachute beret until CSA Rogers' ban of all such unofficial headgear in 1979. On 28 November 1980, however, HQDA revised its ban on berets to authorize airborne organizations to wear the maroon beret.
  • Brown Beret. While HQDA's morale-enhancing order was in force from 1973 to 1979, there was a proliferation of berets, in a rainbow of hues. In Alaska the 172d Infantry Brigade adopted an olive or brown beret. Members of the brigades 1/60th Infantry wore their brown beret with a light blue flash insignia. It was soon dropped when the Army standardized headgear policy in 1979 to limit beret wear to Special Forces, Airborne, and Ranger units.

Soldiers' Response

Thoughts of a Retired Ranger  

My initial reaction to the decision to make the black beret the offical headgear of the Army was one of anger and disappointment. The 75th Ranger Regiment and we of the post-Korean and Vietnam era who maintained the high standards and qualities demanded of those who wear the Ranger Tab had struggled for too long to be allowed to wear the beret to have it now worn by just any soldier. In my mind this was another one of those constant battles between the Unconventional and the Conventional, between the Real Warriors (Rangers) and the "others." It was clearly a "us" and "them" situation. The same old game which I had seen played out time after time in the Army.

I decided that we members of the United States Army Ranger Association needed to band together and mount a massive campaign to get the decision reversed. But then I began to think, what is a beret? It is just a head covering and a rather poor one at that. It has no bill on the front to keep the rain out of one's eyes, it certainly will not keep one's ears warm, and it provides no shade from the sun. So why am I upset about this decision?

Upon reflection, I have come to realize I had elevated the black beret to a place of virtual idolatory and in so doing I was missing the fact that the beret is just a symbol which points to the reality that we, the Rangers, are the elite of the Army. Always have been and I expect always will be. As such it is our responsiblity to do as our motto says and "lead the way." To not allow ourselves to become mired in the old "us" vs. "them" games. Instead we must work towards unifiying the whole Army, encouraging all soldiers to strive to be as we are, The Best. Assisting at all levels of command so that each and every soldier accepts the fact that he or she is absolutely essential to the accomplishment of the Army's mission . If the black beret can contribute to the unification of the Army, then -- Rangers Lead the Way.


Richard G. Jones
Major USA Ret.


Critical Thinking

One of my professors at an institute of higher learning was a retired NCO. Strangely enough, I knew him from our active duty days as Senior ROTC Instructors. He nearly walked me to death through the hills of West Virginia one spring. He was a Special Forces soldier, Vietnam veteran. He caused me to respect the people who wear Green Berets.
In his classes, he always stressed critical thinking. Critical thinking means to literally tear apart an issue, study it, and weigh all the impact of it. Look at it from all angles, dig into it. Determine the impact of every piece of it by asking many questions and examining all the available information. Only after you've done that are you ready to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion of the subject. It's the kind of thinking you'd expect a Special Operations soldier to use when training, preparing for a mission or evaluating a situation.
I tried to apply those critical thinking lessons to this beret issue that's consumed the Army and what it tells us about ourselves. I've re-examined the Chief of Staff's comments and given some thought to other important issues he raised. The first conclusion I've drawn is that many of us - me included - owe the Chief of Staff an apology, and the rest of the Army needs an Alpha Charlie. This whole episode caused me to reflect on old saying - Little things affect little minds.
Gen. Shinseki said at the AUSA annual meeting, "So let me tell you my opinion of training at the battalion level and below. This is where I see the heart of warfighting readiness.... unless squads and platoons and companies can do what they need to do, which is what I call short-sword warfighting... you're not ready.... Crews, squads, platoons, companies, battalions, this is where Army readiness resides.... And sergeant's time training belongs to the command sergeants major. Noncommissioned officers plan it, they execute it, they evaluate it, and they decide whether or not retraining is day a week for five continuous hours. The noncommissioned officer leadership has all of their soldiers mandated to be present at training.... This is 100 percent of your formation present for training. That's a challenge. But one day a week is what I promised the Sergeant Major of the Army I will guarantee to the command sergeants major."

What does it say about the state of the Army when the Chief of Staff must direct the presence of all soldiers for five hours per week of Sergeant's Time Training? It should suggest to you that somewhere along the line leadership has failed or is failing in its most important responsibility. Not the senior leadership that we all like to beat up, but the unit leadership. The leadership at brigade, battalion and company level. We've all registered our complaints about such things as consideration of others and endless taskings eating up valuable soldier training time. But, when the Chief serves notice to the officer-ship of the Army that he is correcting that problem, no one flooded the Internet with excited e-mails. What does that tell you about the state of the Army? What does it tell you about the state of unit and NCO leadership?

Gen. Shinseki also said, "Our second responsibility: the welfare of our soldiers. All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership. Let's take that seriously. That means a commitment to developing competent and compassionate, courageous leaders, who can inspire and motivate, develop and lead soldiers, who we then grow in our images. It starts with drill sergeants. They show us what right looks like.... There is something that happens between a drill sergeant and a young American that remains with soldiers for the rest of their life.... It starts with drill sergeants, and all of us need to carry that relationship over, into the first unit assigned. We will give noncommissioned officers and officers sufficient time in their developmental leadership positions--platoon and company--so that they can learn their jobs."

We've all seen and experienced the problems caused by ticket-punchers filling leadership positions. Command Sergeants Major who barely blinked at being First Sergeants and battalion commanders with only 18 months previous command time as company commanders. Yet, when the Chief tells us he aims to fix that, not one single hooah filtered up from the background. What does that tell you about the state of the Army?
Gen. Shinseki continues, "I hope you got to see the testimony we provided to Congress, that said that we have been too long leveraging our readiness on the backs of our soldiers and their families, and we need to do something about it. I told them that we needed to restore our faith with our soldiers... the force is burdened with too few personnel, aging equipment, and poorly maintained homes and facilities. We need to do something about it. Our soldiers are hopeful that the Nation is going to find a way to share with them the same well-being that soldiers have won for all Americans... We need to slow our pace... Slow the pace and focus on warfighting, mission-essential tasks so we can practice and develop the kind of leadership that we know is important in developing future leaders. It is in the warfighting business that we develop leaders."
Many of us have stated our wishes for a senior leader with candor enough to tell our elected leadership like it is. Yet, when the Chief did that we sat passively by, no thank you's, no attaboy's, no it's about time's, nothing. What does that tell you about the state of the Army?
Gen. Shinseki also said, "Can we routinely schedule PCS's in the summertime? Especially for families that have school-age children... Can we move our PCS's for soldiers with families and school-age children into the summer cycle?... Can we conduct brigade and battalion changes of command during the summer cycles? I think we can. Can we get to the point that soldiers receive permanent change of station orders a year out?... I think we can."
The Chief showed his intent to work an issue that has always plagued soldiers and their families. No letters to the Army Times, no e-mails. What does that tell you about the State of the Army?
The CSA also noted, "Can we avoid keeping soldiers away from their families unnecessarily? And here I'm talking about policies that establish some protection for weekends in garrison. Can we do that? Because I can tell you, every place I go, there are lots of youngsters working weekends. And my question is: Why? It ought not to be because we were inefficient during the week. Let's get efficient during the week, and let's give our youngsters the weekends they deserve. And I will hold the first general officer in the chain of command responsible for approving any exceptions. Can we give soldiers and families a four-day weekend every time we have a Federal holiday? I think we can. Our soldiers more than earn that time in the field or on deployments."
Can I get a hooah - even one?
The Chief also noted, "Can we control short-notice taskings? I know we can do better. I intend for the Army Headquarters here to start setting the example. 1 January 2001, no nonemergency taskings will leave Headquarters DA without the Chief's or the Vice Chief's personal signature if it's less than 180 days from execution. The folks who pay the price here are battalions and companies- that short-sword warfighting business I talked about-because that's where all of our good ideas collapse, right on the desk of the young company commanders, who end up spending most of their time learning how to manage requirements as opposed to commanding companies."
I cannot believe that there is a single leader from Squad Leader through Battalion Command that hasn't seen their units and soldiers suffer because of short notice tasking. Unit training is disrupted, soldier's lives are disrupted and unit capability and readiness suffers because of them. Yet, not one comment, or thanks Chief, or appreciate it, not squat. What does that tell you leaders, about the State of the Army?
It [the black beret] will be a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence, a symbol of our values. We, the leadership, past and present chose to focus on this issue. We were, and many still are, consumed by it. Some soldiers and leaders felt it necessary to degrade every other soldier and branch of the Army to justify exclusive ownership of a hat. Many soldiers and leaders (although many anonymously) made outright disrespectful comments to the Chief of Staff of the Army and no leader stepped forward to take issue with that. We plugged up the e-mail pipes, we filled the Army Times with letters, we plugged up Internet discussion forums and our conversations were of little else. We chose to ignore all the important things the Chief wants to work for that will make it better for soldiers, units and the Army. Instead, we chose as our leadership topic - hats. Again, I ask, what does that say about the state of our Army and the state of its unit leadership?
What it states, loud and clear, is that training, leader development, quality of life... all of those things mentioned by the Chief and important to an Army, take a silent second to the issue of who gets to wear what colored hat. If the energy spent on training and leading soldiers equaled one tenth of what's been spent on debating the pros and cons of this issue by leaders many of the complaints and problems of the Army would vanish overnight.
J.D. Pentry
Command Sergeant Major (Retired)

Articles & Press Releases

DA Approves Ranger’s New Headgear

March 15, 2001

Fort Bragg, N.C. - The 75th Ranger Regiment announced today that it will exchange its traditional black beret for a tan beret. Today, Army Chief of Staff, General Eric K. Shinseki, approved the Regiment’s request to change their beret to maintain the distinctiveness of the unit and reflect the legacy of more than two centuries of Ranger history.

After studying several options, the Rangers decided on the Ranger Tan Beret. Col. P.K. Keen, regimental commander, sent a memorandum dated 9 March 2001, to the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, requesting a change to adopt the Ranger Tan Beret as the new headgear for the Rangers.

General Shinseki announced last year that the Army would issue black berets to all soldiers. That change will be effective, June 14, 2001-the Army’s Birthday.

“The Black Beret has served the Rangers well and will be a symbol of excellence and unity for The Army,” said Keen.
He added that changing to the tan beret for Rangers is not about being different from the rest of the Army, but about a critical aspect that unifies our Army and makes it the best Army in the world - high standards.

“The decision to adopt the Ranger Tan Beret is based upon maintaining a distinctive beret for our Rangers as the Army transitions to the Black Beret,” said Keen. The Rangers support the Army’s decision to don the Black Beret and view this as another step forward in the overall Transformation of the Army.

Tan is the one universal and unifying color that transcends all Ranger operations. It is reminiscent of the numerous beach assaults in the European Theater and the jungle fighting in the Pacific Theater of World War II, where Rangers and Marauders spearheaded victory.

It represents the khaki uniforms worn by our Korean and Vietnam War era Rangers. It is the color of the sand in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Mogadishu, where modern day Rangers fought, died and continued to Lead the Way. Tan rekindles the legacy of Rangers from all eras and exemplifies the unique skills and special capabilities required of past, present, and future Rangers.

“Rangers have never been measured by what they have worn in peace or combat, but by commitment, dedication, physical and mental toughness, and willingness to Lead the Way - anywhere, anytime. The beret has become our most visible symbol -- it will remain so.

“The Ranger Tan Beret will represent for the Ranger of the 21st Century what the black beret represented - A unit that ‘Leads the Way’ in our conventional and special operations forces.”

Shinseki Approves Black Beret Flash

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2000) -- Ending the discussion whether soldiers will wear distinctive unit flashes on their black berets when they are initially issued in June, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki recently decided on a universal flash.

All soldiers will initially wear the universal flash, except for those in units that already have berets, such as Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces. These troops will continue to wear the beret flashes they currently have.

The new flash, worn on the left front of the beret, is a semicircular shield 1-7/8 inches wide and 2-1/4 inches high. It has a bluebird background with 13 white stars superimposed just inside its outer border. Officers will wear their rank in the center of the shield.

"The flash is designed to closely replicate the colors (flag) of the commander in chief of the Continental Army at the time of its victory at Yorktown," said Pam Reece, an industrial specialist with the Army's Institute of Heraldry. Reece and other institute staff members created four beret flash designs from which Shinseki made his selection.

The universal flash will eventually be replaced by unit-specific flashes.

The chief of staff announced Oct. 17 the Army will begin wearing the black beret on the next Army birthday, June 14. He said the beret will symbolize the Army's transformation to a lighter, more deployable force.

"It is time for the entire Army to accept the challenge of excellence that has so long been a hallmark of our special operations and airborne units," Shinseki said. Adopting the berets will be "another step toward achieving the capabilities of the objective force" of Army transformation, he said.

While US Army Rangers have worn the black beret since the mid-1970s, they have not had a monopoly on the stylish cap. Prior to the Rangers adopting the berets, they were worn by armor troops at Fort Knox, Ky., and others in armored cavalry units.

BDU Caps Stay, Berets to Symbolize Transformation

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 25, 2000) -- The BDU cap will still be used in the field, even after the Army adopts the black beret for garrison wear as part of its ongoing transformation, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley said last week.

"The saucer cap and garrison cap could go away," Tilley said, "But those are things we've got to work out."

Tilley will work with a group of senior NCOs to iron out the details of how the Army will adopt the black beret next June. He was charged by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki with devising an implementation plan for the entire Army to don the berets.

"This is a great idea - it's a way to pull the Army together," Tilley said. "The beret has instilled pride in soldiers for years."

Shinseki announced last week that soldiers will begin wearing the black beret on June 14, the Army's first birthday of the new millennium. Shinseki said the beret will be a symbol of the Army's transformation to a lighter, more deployable force.

"Starting next June, the black beret will be symbolic of our commitment to transform this magnificent Army into a new force - a strategically responsive force for the 21st century," Shinseki said. "It will be a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence, a symbol of our values. When we wear the beret, it will say that we, the soldiers of the world's best army, are committed to making ourselves even better."

Tilley said black was chosen for the beret because it's a standard color that has been worn in the past by soldiers in several types of units. Prior to the US Army Rangers adopting the black beret in the mid-1970s, it was worn by armor troops at Fort Knox, Ky., and by those in armored cavalry units.

"The black beret has been used by light and heavy forces before, on and off over the years," Tilley said.

The Army's elite Ranger units may select a different color for their beret, Tilley said.

"I've been talking to the regimental sergeant major," Tilley said, referring to Command Sgt. Maj. Walter Rakow of the 75th Ranger Regiment headquartered at Fort Benning, Ga. "We're going to do what's good for him and what's good for the rest of the Army."

Tilley indicated that Rakow may be part of the group that decides how wearing of the black beret will be implemented across the Army. The group will decide how many berets need to be ordered. It will decide what kind of instruction needs to be provided on how the beret is worn. It will also recommend when new soldiers will be issued the beret -- for instance upon graduation from basic training, advanced individual training or perhaps when they arrive at their first permanent unit.

"It will be a rite of passage," Tilley said of new soldiers donning the beret, but explained the details have not yet been worked out.

Tilley also indicated that Armywide ceremonies may be planned for June 14 when soldiers at posts and stations worldwide don the black beret for the first time. National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers will be involved as well, for they will also wear the black beret, Tilley said.

He said the BDU cap will remain the optimum headgear in the field when the kevlar helmet isn't worn. Berets just don't shade the eyes from sun and hold up to weather the way a cap does, he said.

Tilley said he doesn't expect any new Army regulations on hairstyles to accompany wear of the berets.

He predicted that the berets may help recruiting, but said that had nothing to do with the reasoning behind the decision to adopt them.

Tilley said he has been receiving lots of positive e-mail from soldiers about the berets, but admitted that the comments have been "mixed" and that some people are less than enamored with the idea. He said young soldiers seem more excited about the idea of wearing berets than senior NCOs and veterans.

"I think that it's uplifting for soldiers," Tilley said about adopting the beret. "It's very positive. It's a part of change. I've been in the Army a long time and change is part of being a soldier."

And, Tilley said, change is what transformation is all about.

Editorial: Rangers Led the Way to a Black Beret for All

A few Rangers might feel that some in the Army don't deserve to wear dog tags, much less the coveted black beret, which Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has made the standard for all soldiers starting next summer. Come the Army's birthday, when we first see common soldiers in a black beret, heads will turn no doubt.

The beret, after all, symbolizes a Ranger's unparalleled dedication and selfless commitment to the Army. It's a statement that Rangers, who epitomize the seven Army Values, unequivocally "lead the way."

Rangers, true to their motto, led the way to this controversial decision by owning up to the very creed that defines them. It is written in The Ranger Creed that a Ranger's "courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow."

Mission complete.

What it so wrong with taking the very example that Rangers have established and making it the model of the modern soldier? Such an honor is hardly a "slap in the face," as some critics have characterized it, but rather a slap on the back from the Army's second highest-ranking general, who happens to be a Ranger himself.

Obviously, Rangers have impressed the Army Chief of Staff; he ordered that every soldier be fashioned in the Ranger image. The black beret, he said, will be a symbol of unity, excellence, and Army Values. For all soldiers who wear it, a higher standard is implied and expected.

Rangers don't necessarily disagree with the general's intent, but this directive has caused somewhat of a rift in the Ranger community. Some don't mind the change; some vehemently oppose it. Even some non-Ranger types have expressed apprehension. Such a divide in the ranks proves America's Army needs something like the black beret to unite its troops.

It could be argued that years of allowing special head gear and unit-level deviations of the uniform -- all intended to recognize the "specialized" or the "elite," -- defies the Army's goal of uniformity, distorts our battle focus and contradicts the "one Army" concept." It implies there are varying degrees, and thus, varying standards of being a soldier.

Perhaps Shinseki seeks to punctuate the soldiers' purpose and profile with the black beret. Esprit de corps cannot be issued, but it can be built, and a black beret for all is great basis from which to start. With a stroke of the general's pen, America will have a grander image of modern soldiering. Anyone who dons a beret of any color should remember that, in the endeavor to "be all you can be," you are a soldier first. Therein should lie the true source of your Army pride.

Rangers, be graceful and learn how to take a compliment. Do what you are compelled to do -- "lead the way" to the transformation of this magnificent Army. The common soldier will be all the more indebted to those who "earned" the black beret.

Besides you get right down to it, the only symbol attached to the uniform that matters is the one strategically placed over every soldier's heart -- the one that says, "U.S. Army." Patches and badges and berets are subordinate to that.

Institute Puts Army's Heraldry in Flash

The Army flash, which will be worn on black berets in June, was designed through an intense process that sped up normal work deadlines, said Pam Reece at the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

The institute's first meeting with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley was Oct. 26, Reece said. Development of the flash was completed Nov. 23, in less than 30 days.

"The thing that was most amazing was a one-day turn-around on the creation of prototypes, which were presented to the SMA Oct. 27," Reece said.

Reece is responsible for working with all Army cloth items, such as insignia, flags and ribbons, at the Institute of Heraldry, located on Fort Belvoir, Va. As an industrial specialist, she also coordinates designs with manufacturers. On Nov. 3, Army officials were confident on their design choice, however they still needed to come to a decision on the final color, Reece said.

On Nov. 7 she was told that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Tilley wanted to see examples of the flash done in old glory blue, ultra-marine blue (the color of blue currently used in many airborne flashes) and bluebird, said Reece. She then asked a manufacturer -- Rainbow Embroidery of North Plainfield, N.J. -- to develop these prototypes, which were delivered to the SMA on Nov. 9.

"This was amazing," she said. "Development of a flash normally takes three months; Rainbow did this development in three days."

"Great credit for increasing the speed of this process goes to Richard Rapoza, our artist who turned the design into something manufacturable," Reece added.

"I'm proud to have had a hand in it, working with the design and turning [Shinseki's] ideas into a product," said Rapoza who has been an illustrator with the Institute of Heraldry for eight years.

During the next large-group meeting, Nov. 17, the flashes were shown to all the parties involved in this project.

"At that time, everybody was about 98-percent sure of the final flash," Reece said. "The Old Guard's replica colors were brought in to ensure that we in fact had the right color. And on Nov. 20 I got the answer --it would be bluebird."

Each new flash is a semi-circular shield measuring 1 7/8 inches wide by 2 1/4 inch high, and will consist of 4,001 stitches and two colors. The flash is designed to closely replicate the flag of the commander in chief of the Continental Army at the time of its victory at Yorktown, Reece said.

"It's the CSA's choice and takes the Army back to its very beginning," said Reece, who has been with the Institute of Heraldry for 13 years.

"The 13 stars are significant of the original 13 colonies," Reece said. "I think it's really neat that they went back and took the colors of the Continental Army. If you want to go back and put some pride [back into the Army] you can't go back any further than that."

All soldiers will initially wear the universal flash, except for those in units that already have berets, such as Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces. These troops will continue to wear the beret flashes they currently have.

The new flash will be worn on the left front of the beret. Officers will wear their rank in the center of the shield, and enlisted soldiers will wear their distinctive unit insignia in the center of the shield.

The black berets which will initially be issued to soldiers will be shipped with the universal flash already sewn on them, Reece said. Additionally, the universal flash will eventually be replaced by unit-specific flashes.

The universal flash is to be worn for a period of one year, Reece said. During that year, the Institute of Heraldry will be working with representatives of the Army's 16 major commands to design and develop distinctive flashes.

Just how far below MACOM level distinctive unit flashes will be created has not yet been decided, said Reece.

For now, the Institute of Heraldry's part in flash development is finished.

"We've given 160 of the new flashes to the sergeant major of the Army, and the cartoon (a manufacturing-specifications diagram) has gone out to manufacturers from the Defense Supply Center, Philadelphia, which is responsible for procurement of the berets," Reece said. "Initially some four to five million berets are to be procured."

Flash recommendations not selected included a flash with a black background and yellow boarder, colors which are assumed to represent the Army's colors; one with a green background and yellow border, also colors associated with the Army; and the third design was much the same as the one selected, however with a darker "old glory blue" background.

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