US Army Special Forces adopted green berets from British commandos who trained the first modern squad of Rangers in 1942, but they wore them discreetly because they weren’t regulation until President Kennedy authorized the coveted covers in 1961.
Black berets became the Rangers’ standard after Vietnam, but in 2001, Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki ordered them to be worn by all soldiers. The switch sparked outrage and confusion about how to wear the beret. “Some troops looked pretty awful until the revealed knowledge was shared,” says former officer Ron Capps. The Army retreated to a short-billed patrol cap in 2011, with berets reserved for the dress uniform.
After Shinseki’s move, Rangers chose tan as a nod to the buckskins worn by Rogers’ Rangers, a feared American unit in the French and Indian War. Says ex-Ranger Patrick Nelson, who started the petition: “This generation of Rang-ers, who’ve only known combat, deserve a distinct symbol of their dedication.”
This article appears in the June 2014 issue of Washingtonian.