U.S. Army Rangers are elite warriors. During World War II, they more
than proved their daring, skill and ability to do the impossible in
deadly places such as San Pietro and Normandy.
Once the shooting stopped, the Army disappeared its Ranger
battalions. But Rangers came back for the Korean and Vietnam wars, where
they operated as separate companies executing high-risk,
behind-the-lines missions with the same dash and courage as their
After Vietnam, the Pentagon reformed this extraordinary force — 1st,
2nd and 3rd battalions, 75th Rangers Regiment — and they’ve been out
there in tombstone country doing hard duty ever since.
Like the Rangers of WWII, Korea and Vietnam fame, they’re at the
forward edge: parachuting into Grenada and Panama at night to a warm
welcome from enemy tracers and — overtly or covertly — at every other
hot spot coming down. You know, killing fields like Somalia, where a
surrounded Ranger company fought off a force 20 times its size.
In recognition of the especially high risks they take both in
training and in combat and how hard they work to keep in razor-sharp
shape, the Army awarded these heroes the distinctive black beret.
Like the word SWAT on the back of an FBI or police uniform, the beret
says: We’re special.
Few in today’s slack Army can make the physical and mental cut. Few
can handle the discipline, the sacrifice, the 100-pound load and fast
Ranger pace. Few are willing to pay the price to join these American
Spartans who live by the sword and — if asked — die by the sword.
Just like our elite Special Forces troopers with their green berets,
and paratroopers with theirs in maroon, our Rangers take great pride in
their black berets, which to them are far more than headgear. The black
beret is a badge of honor that says: We are as good as you can get.
We’re the last surviving warriors in an Army gone soft because of the
bureaucrats at the top, the go-along-to-get-along types in the middle
and the overabundance of what’s-in-it-for-me slugs down at the bottom.
An Army that’s forgotten that its mission is to prepare for war, not
grab a bigger budget than the Air Force or Navy.
In October, when the Army chief of staff announced that all soldiers
in the U.S. Army would wear the black beret, Rangers everywhere — young
and old — were not amused. It was definitely not one of Gen. Eric
Shinseki’s finer moments when he followed the recommendation of his
staff wienies and foolishly signed off on one of the dumbest uniform
changes since the Army dropped the OD “Ike” jacket in favor of its
present German WWII look-alike greens to hide fat bellies.
Sure, the Army’s morale is the lowest I’ve ever seen in 55 years. And
yes, talented captains and sergeants are fleeing the force like soldiers
at a range where there’s a live grenade loose.
But just as giving an aspirin to a soldier who’s had both legs blown
off by mortar fire isn’t the way to stop the bleeding, throwing the
Ranger beret at all the troops won’t turn things around.
A beret for all ranks won’t fix the problems driving the exodus –
self-serving senior officer leadership that’s turned micromanagement and
Consideration of Others into an art form. Nor will a beret do much for
the low pay, ghetto-like housing and back-to-back deployments in running
sores like Bosnia and Kosovo. Nor will it return the ideals of Duty,
Honor, Country that are now just words because slick ticket-punching
managers have replaced stand-up-and-be-counted leaders.
Only leadership can fix the Army’s problems.
I hear Shinseki is a good man. A smart general knows when to defend
and when to retreat. He should cut his losses on the beret.
This might upset a few Ranger-hating staff pukes and a factory in
Arkansas that’s gearing up to make a million black berets. It might even
annoy Bill Clinton, who might be into the irony of an Army that his
policies have demolished wearing Monica-esque black berets.
Spiking the berets-for-everyone order would send a message that
Shinseki reads the signposts loud and clear and is smart enough to
change course when he’s headed in the wrong direction.