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Foolish position on berets

Under the "What could they possibly be thinking?" category file the Army's bizarre black beret bungling.

Heretofore, black berets have been reserved for the Army's elite Rangers, a group that has served the United States with distinction for more than two centuries.

Rangers are noted for their dedication, physical and mental toughness and willingness to lead the way. The Rangers, for example, were the first soldiers to scale the cliffs at Normandy's Omaha Beach on D-Day.

For the Army to now decide that black berets will be the standard-issue headgear for everyone — from officers to cooks and clerks — is a slap in the face to those who have worked so hard to obtain Ranger status.

The Rangers did get a consolation prize — the Army agreed to let them now wear tan berets to distinguish themselves from those wearing the black berets. Two other Army units also are authorized to wear berets — Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, wear green, and airborne units wear maroon berets.

Morale is critical in the Army, and of course, the entire military. How could anyone not see that treading on 200 years of tradition would cause some morale problems?

And why make the Rangers change the color of their berets? Why not issue tan berets to the rest of the Army and let the Rangers keep their traditional headgear?

There is also the issue of who mass produces the black berets. Because the Army is determined to have the berets issued as standard headgear in time for the Army's birthday on June 14, it got a waiver from a federal law that requires the Pentagon to buy only American-made clothing.

Now, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, is reviewing the Army's contract with China and other foreign manufacturers to supply the black berets. After meeting with Army officials Friday it was announced that it's possible the June 14 deadline will be extended if it's considered appropriate to give the business to American interests.

But that's a decision that shouldn't have to be made. The Army should have never authorized the mass producing of them in the first place.