Since I’ve been in the military, the headgear I’ve had to wear with the uniform was the beret. I hate it. It’s French. And it’s just so… fussy. Seriously, do you know how much work you have to do to get one ready to wear?
It comes like this:
It’s all poofy, and ill-shaped, and fuzzy. You can see the long ties peeking out behind the mannequin’s ear. Those have to be adjusted, and tied off, and the tie tails cut off, and then the knot melted with a cigarette lighter to make sure it doesn’t come undone.
The beret is made of wool, so there’s lots of little flyaways coming off the surface. Once you get a new beret, you have to shave it. With a razor, just like your face (if you’re a man), to get all the fuzz off.
I don’t like shaving to begin with, but it’s a pretty masculine pursuit, using sharpened steel blades to remove hair from your face because there’s so much testosterone coursing through your veins that hair just sprouts everywhere. Manly! But shaving a beret? Not masculine. At all.
And once it’s shaved, you have to soak it in hot water, put it on your head, and mold it with your hands into the shape it’s supposed to be:
Do you see that nice drape to the side of the head? It doesn’t come like that, you have to get it to do that. Wool can be a stubborn material, so it takes repetition to get it to do that. So, about once a month, I’ d soak my beret in hot water, and mold it with my hands, and wear it that way for a few hours so it would retain that shape.
Despite my efforts, mine still looked more like this:
By the way, that’s Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, and yes, that’s a Medal of Honor around his neck. He’s the first living person to be awarded the Medal of Honor since Vietnam (read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvatore_Giunta). He wears the beret well. But you’d expect that from a paratrooper like him.
You’ll note his beret is maroon. Elite units in the US Army have frequently worn colored berets to signify their elite status. Airborne units wear maroon, Special Forces wear green (as in “the green berets”), and Rangers wear black berets. Well, they did wear black berets until the whole Army was ordered to wear black berets, then the Rangers switched to the historic khaki-colored beret, called a Darby Beret.
Here’s the thing: berets are French, and frankly, kind of girly. The only way to pull it off is to be harder than woodpecker lips. Like Special Forces, and Rangers, and paratroopers.
The beret was the brainchild of General Shinseki, who liked the idea of a beret, and stated it was because every US Army soldier is elite. I have a great deal of respect for General Shinseki, but the sad fact is I, and every other soldier, have known a few soldiers who look like this:
That guy is not elite. He is not as hard as woodpecker lips.
But it’s not just aesthetics. There’s also the practical: the beret offered no shade to the eyes, and kept no rain off your face. So, I was overjoyed when the Army announced that effective this month, the beret was no longer the standard headgear for soldiers in the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), the standard-issue “fatigues” most soldiers wear day-to-day.
Enter the old, reliable, subdued patrol cap.
Ah, that’s better. Plain. Simple. Not flashy. When soldiers go to the field, they wear patrol caps. But in garrison, it was the beret. So, no more patrol cap in the pocket when wearing the beret, because one might have to change. And it’s a piece of headgear that keeps the sun and rain out of your face.
I switched them out this week. It sure felt good to wear headgear that one didn’t have to tug and pull and shape. It felt natural, and simple, and practical, and right.
Even there, in that goofy re-enlistment ceremony… the patrol cap brings a rugged, practical reliability to the scene.
Beret, you will not be missed. May you feed a thousand generations of moths.