Silly Hats

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay

I retired from the Army Reserve on 1 June, 2001, with 21years service, including 31 months active duty. That includes 19 months in1970-72 as a draftee (one of the last still around), Six months in the Gulf Warand six months in Bosnia. I retired just in time to avoid the beret.

I agree with the Rangers who say ordinary soldiersshouldn’t wear berets, but not for the same reason. I don’t think anysoldier should wear a beret. In the first place, they look silly. The only thingsillier and more foppish looking than a soldier in a beret is one with ClassA’s tucked into boots. When I see a soldier in that sort of getup, I don’tthink “here’s a hard charging troop.” I think “here’s a guy whodidn’t get a part in The Student Prince in his high school senior play, andnever got over it.”

But there’s a much more important reason. Someone oncedistilled all the maxims of war into one simple rule: “the side with thesimplest uniforms wins.” If that’s the case, we’re in deep, deep trouble,because our uniforms are totally out of control. I got more ribbons for sixmonths in Bosnia than my father got for 2-1/2 years of service in World War II.I once saw a North Korean military attach with a block of ribbons literallythe size of a sheet of typing paper. I had all I could do to avoid laughing, butwe’re closing in on him fast.

Uniforms should be stripped to the bare essentials: nametape or nameplate, rank, and unit patch, and maybe a combat patch if youactually took effective fire. That means I’d have to remove my Gulf War patch,but I’ll do it if it would help bring some sense to the uniform mess. Limitribbons to four rows, with only the highest ribbons worn. And no badges. None,zero, zip. If you’re an elite soldier I will see it in your performance withina short time. If you’re not, who cares whether or not you once jumped out ofan airplane? The most useless excuse for an NCO I ever knew strutted around in30-year old Airborne wings.

Berets are only a symptom of the underlying malaise, whichis a tendency to exalt form over substance. (This is a problem I can assure youis just as bad in civilian life, and often worse.) Have you noticed that of allthe periodic rituals the Army engages in, only one has completely disappearedrecently: the SQT (Skill Qualification Test). You can be flagged and booted out for being overweightorfailing the APFT, but there are no penalties for failing range fire, and theonly objective measure we had for telling whether a soldier actually knew hisjob has been entirely eliminated. We care if you look sharp, but not whether youcan shoot straight or know your MOS. And why did the SQT go away? Could it bethat soldiers with 200 APFT scores were blowing away soldiers with 300 APFT’sand badges galore?

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Created 19 November 2001, Last Update 31 May 2020

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