Shinseki’s Legacy

U.S. Army Pvt. Jeffrey Lunz receives his beret during basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Jan. 16, 2008 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez) (www.army.mil)

U.S. Army Pvt. Jeffrey Lunz receives his beret during basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Jan. 16, 2008 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez) (www.army.mil)

James Fallows prints a reader email noting that, while former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki has won grudging admiration for his testimony before Congress saying we needed vastly more troops for the occupation of Iraq than Don Rumsfeld and company were planning for, many are still quite bitter about his other legacy.

Shinseki is apparently the genius who decided that we should all wear the beret (which is useless as it provides no shade or or rain or wind protection, and particularly nasty because it takes two hands to put on right, and weighs a ton when wet) as part of our regular uniform in garrison. For that, well, I resent the dude a little as do I think most soldiers.

The main objection to the beret wasn’t its impracticality, much less its negligible weight, but rather that it took a headgear previously reserved for elite forces and gave it to everyone.  Indeed, that was the whole idea: “All soldiers are elite.”  While well intentioned, it’s absurd and insulting.

Previously, green berets were reserved for Special Forces soldiers (technically, those serving in SF units regardless of whether they are tab qualified), maroon berets were for those assigned to Airborne units, and black berets were for those in Ranger battalions.

Shinseki decided to give everyone in the Army a black beret, thus alienating the Rangers and everyone who supported their cause.  Why not some other color?  Because black went well with all of the Army’s uniforms at the time (both woodland and desert camoflague BDUs, the Army Green service uniform, and the Army Blue dress uniform and variants).  The Rangers, after a brief stink, decided to switch to tan berets so that they could be distinct again.

The black beret remains, though, as an Army abomination.  Berets, frankly, simply look silly unless the wearer takes pride in shaping it properly (this involves either cutting out the liner and carefully cultivating the desired look or forking over the money to buy one from Ranger Joe’s or a similar non-issue supplier), is quite fit, and has a very short haircut.   That is, the sort of people who wore a beret in the pre-Shinseki era.  It looks absolutely ridiculous when worn atop thick hair and in its original shape.

None of this, it should be noted, has much of anything to do with Shinseki’s qualification to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Presumably, someone will overrule him if he decides to open the doors to non-veterans under the theory that “we’re all veterans.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    The main objection to the beret wasn’t its impracticality, much less its negligible weight, but rather that it took a headgear previously reserved for elite forces and gave it to everyone. Indeed, that was the whole idea: “All soldiers are elite.” While well intentioned, it’s absurd and insulting.

    Given this angle, one can better understand why Obama would be attracted to the idea of him being in that position. His paper qualificiations aside, I find this attitude of his disturbing. And if you think on it for long, in a general sense, it’s an attitude he and Obama share.

  2. ken says:

    Presumably, someone will overrule him if he decides to open the doors to non-veterans under the theory that “we’re all veterans.”

    How about opening up the VA hospitals to all on the theory that ‘we’re all Americans’?

    I think it is only a matter of time before VA hospitals become federally funded general hospitals. They are are a well run model the rest of the public hospitals to emulate. Even private hospitals would benefit by learning from them. This can be done best if they are open to all.

  3. Bithead says:

    Spoken like someone who has not been to a VA hospital in the last 20 years or so…. and to the point where being kind means assuming that you must be employing saracsm, here.

  4. Davebo says:

    Spoken like someone who has not been to a VA hospital in the last 20 years or so.

    Well, I have and I concur. And add my father, nephew and uncle to the list of those happy with their VA care.

    What’s your percentage of disability Bit?

  5. just me says:

    My husband is a disabled veteran and I have to say rather than opening the hospitals up, they should go with the McCain plan and just issue a Veterans medical card and let veterans choose their own providers.

    It took 6 months for my husband to get an appointment at the clinic an hour from here, and 18 months to get an appointment at the clinic about 30 minutes from here. VA care may be wonderful in large cities or in areas with large military populations, but rural states with low populations have shoddy care and it is difficult to get seen.

  6. anjin-san says:

    What’s your percentage of disability Bit?

    Bitsy is more the armchair warrior type Davebo. You know, talk tough as long as it is not your ass getting shot at…

  7. Brett says:

    That’s not the only criticism I’ve heard about Shinseki. Isn’t he responsible for the Stryker, and some of the abominable aspects of the Future Crap Spreader?

  8. Franklin says:

    Before you folks like Bithead go off the deep end about the “all soldiers are elite” thing, please prove that that is what Shinseki thinks. That interpretation certainly doesn’t appear to be in his announcement, aside possibly from a bland comment about the Army’s excellence. There are a list of reasons given (unity, history, etc.), and you pick out and twist one statement to fit your caricature of someone else completely – Obama. It’s not the most impressive demonstration of logic.

    And besides, if the beret thing is the worst that you can think of …

  9. Donald says:

    It’s a hat. Get over it.

  10. ken says:

    My husband is a disabled veteran and I have to say rather than opening the hospitals up, they should go with the McCain plan and just issue a Veterans medical card and let veterans choose their own providers.

    You know that is not a bad idea as long as it is a Medicare card.

    There is good reason to have single payer medical program for all Americans beyond the cost savings and efficiencies inherent in such a system. One major benefit would be that instead of having separate interests battling over funding we would share a common interests for adequate funding for all Americans.

    The more people we can get into the same single payor system the closer we get to universal health care for all Americans.

  11. Bithead says:

    What’s your percentage of disability Bit?

    Not mine, but my Uncle’s. He lived at the one in Buffalo for a while. We managed to move him out of the place.

  12. Bithead says:

    Before you folks like Bithead go off the deep end about the “all soldiers are elite” thing, please prove that that is what Shinseki thinks.

    Whose program is it?

    Next….

  13. belloscm says:

    I seem to recall the Army thinking that a beret would infuse all soldiers with elite unit esprit de corps, and at the same time, help to solve (on the cheap, of course) the recruiting and retention problems of the late 1990’s.

    The soldiers from elite units which had earned the right to wear the beret weren’t impressed by Shinseki’s attempt at elevating organizational self-esteem at the expense of tradition and merit.

    Affirmative action for REMFs, as it were.

  14. davod says:

    You have to take Shinseki’s numbers required for Iraq in context. His number was virtually impossible to fulfill. There were just not enough combat troops. The whole idea was to stop the move into Iraq.

    As it was, the actual war phase was completed successfully with less troops than the coalition wanted (4ID was kept out of the fight because then Turks would not allow then to move through Turkey).

    I wonder how many troops Shinseki wanted to go into Afghanistan?

  15. belloscm says:

    “…His number was virtually impossible to fulfill. There were just not enough combat troops. The whole idea was to stop the move into Iraq.”

    Must be true then; I made the same observation on the thread “Shinseki To Head Veterans Affairs”:

    “…FWIW, not just a few believe that his SASC testimony in early ’03 was less an honest assessment of OIF force levels than an attempt to “gold brick” the Army out of the mission as directed by the NCA. Wars are bloody, costly and play havoc with future procurement budgets, you know…”

    Less “talkin’ truth to power” than disingenuous testimony in the service of the Army’s institutional interests? Remember that the U.S. Army cut the legs out from under Wes Clark in Kosovo, another war that they didn’t want to fight.