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Special Briefing on Army Headgear-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 16, 2001 1:15 PM EDT

Friday, March 16, 2001, 1:15 p.m. EST

(Special briefing on Army headgear. Also participating was Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.)

Wolfowitz: Good afternoon. In case any of you didn't meet me when the secretary brought me down, I'm Paul Wolfowitz. I'm the deputy secretary of Defense.

I guess some of you noticed there's a bit of interest around town on the question of Army headgear. I'm here with General Shinseki, the chief of staff of the Army, to discuss the way ahead on that question. And I'm here to offer my support for the decisions that have been reached by the Army and for General Shinseki specifically.

He and I chatted yesterday about his view of this issue, and I thought it was very important for him to give that same view to you and to the American people.

General.

Q: Does the secretary share your support?

(No response.)

Shinseki: Well, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Dr. Wolfowitz. And I've got a short opening statement, and we'll provide written copies.

These beret decisions, both the decision regarding the black beret last October and the one regarding the tan beret yesterday, are about change. And the Army is going to change, it will change, to remain the most capable and the most respected army in the world. And change, as all of us know, is difficult, and especially in proud and respected institutions. But we are transforming this most powerful army from its Cold War legacy force into an objective force that will be strategically responsive and dominant for all the broad range of missions we are asked to perform.

Now, many different units have worn berets throughout our history. In the case of the black beret, other formations, to include armored units, cavalry units, other infantry units, have worn it over time.

And because of that shared history in our Army, the black beret remains the most relevant color for wear Army-wide today.

And so at the time of our decision last fall to expand the wear of the black beret, the Ranger Regiment was invited to consider, if appropriate, another distinctive color that it might select to designate its formations. And after considering several options over these intervening months, the regiment requested and the Army has approved the tan beret for wear by Rangers. Now, the Ranger tan beret will continue to symbolize that great regiment and its challenges for the 21st century. And whatever those challenges are, Rangers will continue to lead the way.

These decisions are about our excellence as soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an institution. Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley is working on an implementation plan, and that work should be done soon.

This is about building trust and confidence in our formations, our formations that will be defending this country in the 21st century. This is about teamwork, teamwork that's based on that foundation of trust and confidence between soldier and soldier, between leader and led, between unit and unit serving side by side all across the Army. So this is about the magnificence of that American soldier who has been defending our country for 225 years.

And with that opening statement, I'll be happy to take some questions.

Charlie?

Q: General, the Special Forces, the Rangers, at first dug in their heels on this -- (off mike). Did you realize what a stink this was going to cause when you made the announcement, made the decision? Did you consider that?

Shinseki: I think we expected there would be some push-back. I mean, exactly what it was going to be, no one is ever quite sure. But, yes, we expected there would be some expressions of concern. I mean, these are important things to our units.

Q: You said this was about change. Exactly what kind of change are you trying to implement by going to all black berets throughout the Army?

Shinseki: Well, we are putting black berets into most of our Army units. As you know, the Special Forces will retain their distinctive green berets. Airborne forces will retain their maroon berets.

But for the most part, the one color that's been relevant across many of our formations that have been involved in change in the past have been the -- has been this black beret. And so as we work towards the transformation, which we have described in other gatherings as the transformation that the Army has undertaken -- and it will go on for about the next 10 years.

Q: General, two questions. One, for Secretary Wolfowitz, you said you support it. Does your boss support it?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: Okay. And the question for the general is, why didn't you go the other way? How much of an impact did the fact that you had earmarked almost $27 million and ordered 3 million berets have to do with not giving the tan to most of the troops and allowing the Rangers to keep the black beret?

And secondly, we understand now that you've cancelled the order to have some of those berets made in China. Is that true?

Shinseki: Well, I -- first of all, the discussion about purchase of the berets -- we ordered a -- we expressed a requirement for them, and the method of purchase is being reviewed. So I will leave that for other discussions.

But again, the black beret was relevant to most formations in the Army, and for most formations in the Army, tan was not. And so that's the reason on which the black beret was --

Q: With all due respect, General, that's not answering the question. The question is, how much did the dollar factor have in the decision-making process? And secondly, a direct question: Have you cancelled the order for part of those berets that were going to be made in Red China?

Wolfowitz: Let me just take the second part. It's not the Army's responsibility to acquire; it's the Defense Logistics Agency. We haven't cancelled anything yet. The acting under secretary for Acquisition is looking into the contract and whether there are any issues there that have to be looked at. And we'll get back to you when we can have an answer to that.

Q: Well, the issue on that was waiving the "buy America" provisions. Can you explain the rationale for why those provisions --

Wolfowitz: We'll explain it after we've looked into it.

Q: Can we just ask whose decision that was to waive that requirement? Was that General Shinseki?

Wolfowitz: No, no, it was not the Army's. It was the Defense Logistics Agency.

Q: Did it have anything to do with --

Q: But was it not pushed by the general to get this thing done by June the 14th, his deadline that he had set? They have to --

Wolfowitz: The Army set a requirement. DLA responded to that requirement. We're looking into whether DLA responded properly.

Q: It's still unclear -- if I could ask you, it's still unclear as to what putting black berets on the heads of all the troops has to do with transformation. I mean, what specifically were you trying to achieve by ordering the switch to black berets?

Shinseki: Well, it's about change, as I indicated.

Q: Well, but simply changing a hat --

Shinseki: We are undertaking -- well, this is an Army that's going to be transforming for the next 10 years and, as I indicated, change is difficult, and this is somewhat symbolic, in that aspect. It's getting this Army moving in a direction that's going to facilitate that change. It'll go on for the next 10 years. And some of that change had to do with the discussions early on about heavy forces. As you recall, transformation began with a discussion about looking at our ability to deploy, so we spent a good bit of work doing that.

But as we looked at our transformation of the entire institution, we thought it important to have a symbolic and a visible demonstration that this Army was prepared for change and undertaking it.

Q: Is the birthday deadline still in effect, or might that be pushed back, given the fact that --

Wolfowitz: We'll have to see what the acquisition people come back and tell us is feasible.

Q: So that might change?

Wolfowitz: It could change.

Shinseki: Could change.

Q: General, since we so rarely hear from you --

Wolfowitz: (To General Shinseki.) Don't take that personally.

Q: -- could you bring us up to date on where you are on the practical transformation? I realize that this is a symbolic thing, but what about the move from track to wheeled vehicles, to lighter, more deployable -- where are you on that transition? Have you made any decisions? And have you decided whether you're going to need a greater end-strength and more manpower in the future?

Shinseki: Well, I think, as you know, we have designated the first interim brigade combat teams, identified and standing up, in the process of standing up now at Fort Lewis. We're in the midst of a procurement decision for the interim brigade combat teams. But at the same time, we've put significant effort into science and technology to look for the technologies that are going to describe that objective force that we're looking -- for capabilities for in the 10 years down the road.

So we're doing both things simultaneously; some interim decisions are in place, and then some science and technology investigations are going to have longer-term return. So, momentum in both areas right now.

Staff: Just one more, please --

Q: General, you say this is symbolic, but at the same time you seem to expect that it will help build trust and confidence and teamwork. So, those are concrete things. How would it do that?

Shinseki: Well, I think if you were to see some of the responses I'm getting from across the force, it would demonstrate to you that these are important decisions, and across the force this decision to put on the black beret is widely supported. The Army is a million people in uniform.

Q: If I could ask one more, General. General, at a time when there are questions about readiness, several people on the Hill are already raising questions about how appropriate it is. When the Army in some cases can't afford to buy bullets, how can they afford to spend $27 million on berets? So how appropriate -- or can you justify this expense?

Shinseki: Well, we have, as you know, programs that go and procure ammunition for us. And those programs are in place. This is equally important. You know, in the center of our formations are young soldiers, and they are the centerpiece of our formations, and this is about giving them the kind of resonance and support.

Q: General --

Wolfowitz: That really has to be the last question. I just want to close on a lighter note.

We've done a little research into the history of the beret, and those of you will look in General Powell's memoirs will find there's a picture of a young colonel shaking hands with a man who's the secretary of Defense, from the back. It's Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the last time around.

Thank you all.

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