Army's Beret Decision Draws White House Scrutiny
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 14, 2001 At the president's request, senior defense leaders are looking into the Army's decision to issue its black beret to all soldiers.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has asked his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to review the matter, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said here March 13. No deadline was set, but Wolfowitz probably will "move it along pretty quickly," he added.
Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, announced his intent last October to issue the beret to all soldiers and started a controversy among current and former Rangers and in Congress. The beret has been worn traditionally only by Rangers, an elite, highly trained combat group.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged in a March 12 letter to Rumsfeld that the beret program be suspended until the new Army secretary can review it. Warner said he is concerned the proposed change of headgear "will lessen the historic recognition of special professional qualification."
Grass-roots opposition to the change has gained national attention. Former Rangers David Scott and David Nielsen recently completed a 750-mile march from Fort Benning, Ga., to Washington to protest the policy. Throughout their march, they carried the black beret of Pfc. James Markwell, a Ranger medic killed in Panama in 1989.
Wolfowitz's review also is to address questions raised publicly about beret procurement. In the Army's current contracting plans, the bulk of the black berets would be made in foreign countries, including China.