Out with the old, in with the new, soldiers don black berets

Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Soldiers at Fort Wainwright have a new look.

They now will wear black berets instead of camouflaged billed hats. The berets are intended to represent a sense of pride in a forward-looking Army.

''It's meant to create a visible appearance of an Army in change,'' said Lt. Col. Keith Richard, post plans and operations officer in charge of a ceremony recognizing the new headgear. ''I think it's a more significant change than changing from old olive fatigues to camouflage fatigues.''

That change made in 1980 was out of practicality because the camouflage fatigues are more durable and have more pockets, Richard said.

On Oct. 17, 2000, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki made the black beret the standard headgear for everyone in the Army. However, because an enormous amount of orders needed to be filled, the change has been implemented unit by unit.

It wasn't until Monday, in ceremonies throughout the post starting at 10:30 a.m., that Fort Wainwright soldiers were authorized to don the new beret.

During the ceremony, the four formations of soldiers simultaneously removed their billed camouflage hats, pulled the berets from a pocket on their uniforms and donned them. Most then took a few seconds to smooth and shape their new headgear.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Brown said soldiers received instructions just after they received their new berets about two weeks ago.

They were told how to shave the fuzz off the felt hats, how to wet them and how to mold them to their heads.

''With the regular BDU (battle-dress uniform) hat all you had to do was put your rank on it and wash it,'' Brown said.

Sgt. 1st Class Chris Sommerville likes the change. He is one of about 100 Fort Wainwright soldiers who wears a maroon beret as part of a group of airborne military police who parachute out of airplanes twice a month.

''I think it's fantastic,'' he said. ''It adds to esprit de corps and it's an honor.''

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