If you tend to confuse American soldiers with beatniks, you will soon have one less excuse: The US Army has announced that it will be replacing the black beret as the default headwear for its standard combat uniform.
In its place will be the patrol cap, a soft baseball-cap-like head covering with a flat top and a rounded visor.
Introduced a decade ago as part of the standard Army Combat Uniform, the black wool beret was almost universally despised by US soldiers. It lacks a visor to shield the eyes from the sun. It's hot and doesn't absorb sweat. You can't carry it in a pocket. You need two hands to put it on.
The widespread use of the beret also irritated some members of elite units. The green berets worn by the US Army Special Forces were seen as badges of honor, earned through many months of intense training. The same is true for the red berets worn by Airborne forces. The Rangers had traditionally worn black berets, but switched to tan berets when the black ones became standard for all US Army soldiers.
The Army-wide black beret was made effective on June 14, 2001 by then-Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who saw it as a symbol of excellence, and as a unifying symbol that would help "erase the distinctions between heavy and light forces."
The reversal came after a survey of opinions from soldiers in the field found that the head covering was hated by just about everyone.
The beret, which is based on the traditional hat of Basque shepherds, will not completely disappear from the Army. Special Forces, Airborne, and Rangers will continue to be allowed to wear the beret as part of their standard uniform, and individual unit commanders will still have the option of ordering their troops to wear them. The hat will also remain as the hat worn with the Army Service Uniform, which is worn for public and official functions.