Alaska soldiers celebrate Army anniversary without new hats

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Soldiers at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright were supposed to celebrate the Army's 226th anniversary Thursday with the official donning of a new part of their uniform, the black beret, but the hats did not make it to the state on time.

Production delays and political mix-ups have pushed the berets' expected arrival back to mid-September.

Black berets used to be the official headgear of the Army Rangers. Rangers, along with Airborne troops that wear maroon berets and Special Forces, or Green Berets, used to be the only Army personnel allowed to wear the symbols of elite achievement.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki announced the change in headgear last October as part of the Army's planned transformation to ''a Cold War legacy force to an objective force'' capable of quick and sustained deployments across the world.

The decision prompted negative responses from Rangers and other Army personnel upset over what they considered the dilution of a hard-won symbol of excellence.

Sgt. 1st Class Havier Figueroa told the Anchorage Daily News that opinions on Fort Richardson are split ''about 50-50'' on the hats.

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