October 20, 2000
General Eric Shinseki
Chief of Staff, Army
200 Army Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20310-0200
I believe that I speak for all Ranger wives when I say to you that your
recent decision to allow all Army personnel the right to wear the black beret
was ill advised. Your decision, although I am sure made for all the right
reasons, will cause more harm to the morale of the Army than any good you
Challenging the entire Army to strive to meet the standards achieved by the
Rangers and other specially trained units is the right thing to do. However,
you gain nothing if it is given to you. Only by earning something does it
have value. Rangers are not given their black beret; they earn the right to
wear it. Their mission, their training, their dedication and their sacrifices
set them apart from the rest of the Army. The beret also sets them apart and
symbolizes who they are and what they represent.
Your aides have stated that they expected "some grumbling" from the Rangers
after your decision was made regarding the wearing of the black beret. They
have under-estimated the depths of emotion and sense of betrayal that this
decision has caused. It is more than "just grumbling" that you are hearing
from the Rangers and their families that support them. Surely you must know
what the black beret symbolizes to men who fought in Korea and Vietnam? I
encourage you to talk with some of these Ranger veterans and let them tell
you what the black beret means to them.
The military has a rich tradition full of symbolism. The American flag is not
just a piece of cloth with stars and stripes on it, it symbolizes sacrifices
made by so many and is cherished by a nation. Every unit patch, medal and
ribbon is symbolic of something unique and special, something earned. The
black beret holds special meaning and is more than just a piece of cloth to
cover one's head. Like the green beret and maroon beret, the black beret says
to the world, the men who wear this have gone the extra mile; ran a little
faster, walked a few more miles; trained a little harder; jumped into harms
way and always volunteered to lead the way when they were called to do so.
Look at the uniform you wear every day. In order to wear the Ranger tab, you
had to earn it. In order to wear gold on your uniform, you had to earn it.
All the medals you have on your chest, you had to earn them. Likewise, the
black beret is something that should be earned, not given away.
I urge you to reconsider your decision on designating black as the color of
beret for the entire Army. Your goal of increasing morale by allowing the
Army to wear a beret can be accomplished by choosing another color. Give the
regular Army units their own color. They do not wish to wear something they
have not earned. Let them stand on their own merits and achievements and
reward them appropriately.
The entire Army, veterans, and their families anxiously await your response
to our request. I trust that you will acknowledge the sacrifices that your
fellow soldiers, the Army Rangers, have made and not trivialize the symbols
that they hold so dear.