PENTAGON HALTS BERET HANDOUT

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PENTAGON HALTS BERET HANDOUT

 

Rowan Scarborough

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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The Pentagon said yesterday that it had started a review of

the Army's contested decision to issue the Rangers'

exclusive black beret to all soldiers.

 

A spokesman said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

also will look into a department decision last fall to

bypass a "buy America" law to acquire the wool berets from

low-wage factories in communist China and other Third World

countries.

 

The review, requested last month by President Bush, was

announced a day after Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia

Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services

Committee, urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to

suspend the beret program until a new Army secretary

examines it.

 

Mr. Wolfowitz's announcement culminates weeks of intense

pressure from former soldiers and members of Congress. They

argue that making the berets available to every soldier in

the Army voids the uniqueness of the black beret for 3,000

Rangers, one of the Army's most elite combat groups.

 

"I think it's moving pretty quick and it's exciting," said

ex-Ranger David Nielsen, who last week completed a 750-mile

protest march from Fort Benning, Ga., to Washington. "I want

to find the best way out for everyone. I don't want to see

anyone embarrassed. Maybe there's not an 'A' or a 'B,' but

maybe a 'C' position that makes everybody look good. Maybe

khaki berets for soldiers."

 

A source close to the issue said Mr. Rumsfeld feels

compelled to act in the face of widespread disagreement with

the beret policy.

 

The Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who set out the

policy in October as a symbol of "a transformed Army for the

21st century," is said to be discussing how he should

respond if Mr. Rumsfeld suspends the program permanently.

Congressional and Army sources say the four-star general is

convinced he made the right decision and stubbornly defends

it.

 

Asked a retired soldier who worked in the Bush campaign:

"Can Shinseki take a hint?"

 

He notes the growing number of letters from Republican and

Democratic congressmen opposing the general's decision, and

the fact that the commander in chief ordered the Pentagon

review.

 

The issue became further inflamed last week when The

Washington Times reported that the Defense Logistics Agency

bypassed the "Berry Amendment" and ordered hundreds of

thousands of black berets from Third World countries,

including China.

 

The amendment requires the Pentagon to buy clothing made of

American components in American plants. The agency said

waiving the law was the only way it could meet Gen.

Shinseki's deadline of having all 474,000 active duty

soldiers in a beret by June 14, the Army's birthday.

 

"I am also troubled by reports of the manner in which the

berets are being procured," Mr. Warner said in his letter to

Mr. Rumsfeld.

 

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican,

wrote to Mr. Rumsfeld last week as well, saying "Taking the

black beret away from Rangers complicates the laudable goal

of creating esprit d'corps in the Army."

 

In the House yesterday, Rep. Lois Capps, California

Democrat, circulated a letter to be signed by her colleagues

that calls on Mr. Bush to consider terminating the foreign

contracts.

 

"The seemingly arbitrary deadline for the new berets will

cause U.S. firms to lose millions of dollars and send this

important business to foreign companies," Mrs. Capps said.

 

"Military uniforms are a powerful symbol for U.S. soldiers,

representing who they are and what they stand for. That is

one reason why they are manufactured in our own country,

except in times of crisis. The Army's decision to purchase

the black berets from companies who manufacture them

overseas may undermine the very morale and unity the Army is

attempting to instill in its forces with its decision to

outfit its soldiers in matching headgear."

 

Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, told

reporters Mr. Wolfowitz will look at Gen. Shinseki's policy

itself as well as the overseas contracts.

 

"There are several different facets to this overall topic,

and the deputy secretary has been asked to take a look at

each of them and come back holistically to the secretary

with his recommendations on the way ahead," Adm. Quigley

said. "His charter is very broad. . . . He'll move it along

pretty quick."

 

There was confusion at the Pentagon after White House

spokesman Ari Fleischer announced two weeks ago that the

president himself wanted a review, and nothing happened. Mr.

Rumsfeld then told reporters that he had not asked the Army

for any information. His remarks were taken as a lack of

enthusiasm for the president's instructions.

 

Mr. Fleischer yesterday repeated the president's

instructions.

 

"This is something that DoD [Department of Defense] is

looking at now," he said. "Secretary Rumsfeld will be

addressing those questions.

 

"He said he has not asked the Army to do so. I think you

should allow the secretary to speak for himself. The

secretary is aware, certainly. He had a conversation with

the president. So because he says he hasn't asked the Army

to is not an indication of what Secretary Rumsfeld is or is

not doing."

 

Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, complained

personally about the beret policy last month to Mr. Bush and

Mr. Rumsfeld during an Air Force One trip to an Army base in

Georgia.

 

 

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 Bruce "Doc". Melson

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