|Ranger Jef Curran, Veteran of 1/75 Ranger who buried his best friend with his Black Beret
General Eric Shinseki
Chief of Staff, United States Army
Washington, DC 20310-0200
Dear General Shinseki:
I am a veteran of the 1st Ranger Battalion, a Disabled American Veteran as well. I am writing this because I recently learned of your plan to have the Ranger Black Beret become the standard headgear for the entire Army. I am shocked that this is even being considered! First of all, I fail to see the logic behind the thought that giving regular soldiers new headgear will raise their standards. Secondly, I strongly feel that this will be a blow to our Special Operations Forces morale and readiness that will have disastrous consequences.
I don't think you understand what the Black Beret really means to the Rangers, the men who have earned the right to wear it through hardship and sacrifice. It is not something that has ever been simply handed out to everybody who wanted to wear it. The Black Beret is a symbol that has earned its history through the blood, sweat, and tears of the men who have served as Rangers. To have all of that history thrown away would be unforgivable. I'd like to give you an example of what a Black Beret really means to a Ranger.
In September of 1987, while serving in Charlie Company, 1st Ranger Battalion, I was involved in a helicopter crash that killed one of our Squad Leaders, left several Rangers comatose, and severely injured several more of us. One of these Rangers was Sgt. Christopher Pennington. Sgt. Pennington was like a brother to me, the common bond between Rangers. We had been through much hardship together, and had earned the right to wear our Black Berets together. This is a feeling that is not describable. We lived the Ranger Creed together on countless missions & deployments. The one thing that Chris wanted most in life was to be a Ranger. Long before the crash, Chris had me make him a promise: If he were to die, he made me promise that I would make sure he got buried with a Black Beret.
After a year of rehabilitation, Sgt. Pennington learned that he would never be able to jump again. Since a Ranger Battalion is an Airborne unit and parachute insertions are standard procedure, all Rangers must maintain Airborne status. The Army then decided to transfer Sgt. Pennington to a regular Infantry unit because of his injuries. When Chris learned of his impending transfer, he committed suicide. This is how strongly he felt about being a Ranger. This is what the Black Beret symbolized to him. Nothing else would satisfy him.
When I escorted Sgt. Pennington's body home, his Black Beret could not be found. It had been misplaced by the funeral home back in Georgia while they were preparing his body. I couldn't bear the thought of Chris being buried without his Black Beret. I had made him a promise, so I took my own Beret off, and folded it under Chris's hands before his casket was lowered into the ground. I kept my promise. That is what being a Ranger is all about. "Never shall I fail my comrades" is just one line of the Ranger Creed. These are more than just words, they are a way of life for all who serve and have served as Rangers. I live the Ranger Creed to this day, even though my physical disabilities caused by my Ranger and other Special Operations service forced an early end to my military career after 15 years.
I apologize if this letter seems long, but I feel that it is extremely important for you to understand that you will be responsible for erasing the history and Esprit de Corps of one of this countries greatest fighting units, an elite group of men who have always gone above and beyond the call of duty. I understand your desire to raise the standards and morale of the Army, but I wholeheartedly disagree with your notion that simply handing out Black Berets will accomplish any of that. If you decide to follow through with this and hand out Berets to all members of the Army, you have many other colors to choose from that would not destroy the morale of a unit that you cannot afford to demoralize. If people want to wear Black Berets, let them go through the same rigorous selection process, let them endure the same hardships and sacrifices that so many of us have done before, and that those today continue to do.
SSG Jeff Curran (Retired)
Charlie Company 1/75