Last Tuesday, the U.S. Army chief of staff announced that all troops will soon don black berets, replacing the current green hat which folds flat and is often termed an "envelope" cap. The apparel overhaul comes in response to declining recruit numbers and withering morale within the Army. Not only is this change ineffective and impractical, but also insane. They've looked for a solution and come up with berets. I'm still hoping that they haven't realized what berets actually look like.
Army officials claim that the berets make troops look sleeker and more nimble. I thought that was why God invented leather pants. It seems rather illogical to think that a circular, floppy hat is more streamlined than a linear, compact one. When Americans see berets, do they think "lean and agile" or do they think "French and cigarette-smoking?" Few men and women join the Army to live out their fashion dreams. The proper image the Army ought to convey is one of strength and efficiency, two values the current hat adequately supports.
Efficiency is crucial now more than ever, while many Americans are wondering why we have spent more than $250 billion in each of the past four years on National Defense alone. We do not need something flashy; we need practicality. The current hat, with its baseball-style brim, shields the troops' faces from rain and sun exposure. The beret merely throws a person's head off center.
An Army's image does not change with its clothing, but rather through policy and procedure. Our country spends more money on the armed forces each year than the next 12 highest-spending countries combined and more than three times what Russia and China spend together in a year. The Army must prove that they are allocating these funds more effectively if the American people are going to show more support for and involvement in the military.
The army is right to cite unity and strength as objectives, but wrong to assume that berets will help at all in achieving them. In fact, Green Beret Special Forces, Army Rangers (black berets) and airborne units (maroon berets) are already voicing heated objections to the new uniform accessory, claiming that their distinction has been removed. This division among the soldiers can only weaken our defenses.
The Army might consider giving "regular" troops their own special mark of honor (a la secret decoder rings) rather than stealing one from other divisions. That might provide an incentive for dedication without undermining the traditional excellence and prestige of our elite special forces.
The sheer ridiculousness of the beret plan, however, begs a larger question: why are we changing the hats at all? When our national defense can only strengthen its forces by wearing a different style of headgear, we may want to reevaluate our military policies. Perhaps we have fewer recruits because Americans see how petty the Army can be. The solution to the Army's recruiting woes begins not with fashion ensembles but with enlightenment.
Berets don't win wars and they certainly don't win popularity. The only thing they win you is a beat-down after school.
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