Ranger Ralph Pucket, 8th Army Rangers, Korean War, Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment and Member of the Ranger Hall of Fame.

October 21, 2000

General Eric Shinseki
Chief of Staff, United States Army
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0200

Dear General Shinseki:

I am writing in regard to your decision to make the black beret standard issue to Army Soldiers.

I support wholeheartedly your goal of instilling pride, self-esteem, and confidence into each Soldier thereby improving the combat readiness of our Army. The Ranger Department was established in 1951 for the similar purpose of raising the standards of our Infantry by training selected leaders and returning them to their units. The “Abrams Charter” envisions the same goal.

I do not believe that the black beret will accomplish your goal. The beret does not make the man; Rangers make the black beret “the symbol of Army excellence.” I do not believe that most Soldiers will want to wear the black beret. It has no meaning for them. How can it instill pride? We can not give self-esteem to a Soldier. He earns it by accomplishing a difficult, worthwhile task.

I agree that “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.” To have the Army that you envision – and that our country deserves -- all Soldiers must meet the same standards as those units.

The Ranger Regiment consists of Soldiers – warriors -- whose character exemplifies a set of values. These values are derived from ideals such as duty, honor, country. These ideals are steeped in patriotism and tradition. Dedication to the ideal of selfless service is the core of their makeup.

The Ranger accepts as his duty looking after his buddy even at the risk of his own life. “I will never leave a fallen comrade” is more than just a phrase to them. Being a Ranger requires physical and moral courage.

The Ranger ethos causes a Ranger to rise to almost unbelievable heights of bravery and self sacrifice and can help overcome the disadvantages of inferior numbers and technology. This ethos has been developed by rugged, progressive, realistic, high risk, battle focused training. That sort of training makes the Rangers what they are. The black beret had nothing to do with it.

I know that you know these things, General. I recognize that I am “preaching to the choir.” I state them to express my views on what I believe will do more to raise our Army’s combat effectiveness than the black beret will.

I speak as a Ranger combat veteran of Korea. (I am also a combat veteran of Vietnam.) In August 1950, although a green, second lieutenant, I was selected to form, train, and command the Eighth Army Ranger Company, the first Ranger unit established after World War II. Later, I spent more than two years in the Ranger Department. In 1955, I was sent to Colombia to assist its Army in establishing the Escuela de Lanceros, their equivalent of our Ranger School. The proudest day of my military career was when I first said, “I am a Ranger!” I earned the right to wear the black beret with the expenditure of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Being a Ranger continues to have a profound effect upon me. I am distressed that the black beret, a symbol of excellence when worn by a Ranger, will now be denigrated by issuing it to all Soldiers.

I have been the Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment for almost five years, the best assignment I could hope to have! When I heard the news of your decision, it was about 0230 hours as I shivered on the top of Hawk Mountain in the Ranger Mountain Camp. (I was the Mountain Camp Commander in 1952.) I spent the week observing 17 Ranger Captains in MangoDay, a very physically and professionally demanding training program. COL Ken Keen, their outstanding commander, was with them every step of the way. I leave in two days for about 10 days on a training exercise in Korea with other Rangers. I have been to JRTC, Yakima Training Area, Ft. Knox, and elsewhere with these great Soldiers. They are the finest I have ever seen.

Your order has had a deleterious effect on them. They ask so little and give "100% and then some" to this great country in which we live. Your decision takes away a source of pride for them. They are stunned and incredulous. However, being the disciplined Soldiers that they are they remain silent.

I have also spoken to some of their wives. In addition to being stunned, they, like my wife, are angry and heartbroken; they hurt for their husbands. The wives know better than any one – perhaps better than their husbands – what being a Ranger means to their men. The ladies are totally committed to the Regiment and to our Army. We can be as proud of them as we are their husbands.

I hope that you will reconsider your decision.

Rangers Lead The Way!

Ralph Puckett