By Alyson Hansen
I’ve been a military spouse for seven years. My husband started his career in the National Guard and then ventured his way into active duty after graduation from college.
With the change to active duty came a duty station, which was a new concept to someone like me who had only dealt with military life one week a month.
His second assignment landed us here at Fort Bragg. We had just come from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and one of the first things I noticed were the many colorful berets and hats on Soldiers. I hadn’t recalled seeing any color on Fort Campbell except black, with the rare green one thrown in.
The colors interested me, and I wanted to know more.
Historically, the color of a Soldier’s “cover” helped distinguish with which type of unit they were involved. Berets were first used during World War II, when the British gave the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment maroon berets. However, the beret didn’t really catch on in the Army until later.
In the 1970s, the beret colors began to get a bit out of hand, with Fort Campbell boasting three different colored berets to mark their personnel.
In 1979, Army leadership banned the beret. The leaders wanted more standardization of headgear throughout the force.
Exceptions were granted for Special Forces Soldiers, the 75th Ranger Regiment and Ranger Training Brigade. In 1980, Lt. Gen. Thomas Tackaberry was a part of a coalition that petitioned for the return of the maroon beret for airborne Soldiers. It was granted.
Today on Fort Bragg, you’ll see six covers, four of which are berets.
The black beret is the standard headgear used Army-wide.
The 75th Ranger Battalion originally wore black berets, but this was changed in October 2001, when then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki announced the black beret would become the standard headgear for the Army. The beret represented a sense of pride to the 75th Ranger Bn., and Gen. Shinseki wanted to foster that pride throughout the Army. He was originally met with some severe backlash.
Tan “Buckskin” Beret
This beret is the color of the 75th Ranger Regt. and Ranger Training Brigade. The color was decided on for the Rangers in 2002 after Shinseki’s decision to make the black beret the Army wide beret color.
The tan is representative of the buckskin caps worn by Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War. Not to be confused with Ranger-qualified Soldiers, members of the 75th Ranger Regt. are part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
The maroon beret is the color of the airborne Soldier.
Because the color is worn by Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, people see more of these berets at Fort Bragg than any other color. The maroon is an homage to the British Soldiers who gave maroon berets to the 509th PIR in 1943.
In the 1950s, a new Army organization specializing in counterguerrilla warfare and insurgency began wearing berets in various shades of green. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy made the green beret the official color of this new fighting force, the U.S. Special Forces.
Again, because Fort Bragg is the home of USASOC, people see quite a few green berets on base. Like the 75th Ranger Regiment, these Soldiers go through intensive training, and their beret color sets them apart from other Soldiers on base.
Red baseball cap
Occasionally, you may see a Soldier in a red baseball cap. These Soldiers are parachute riggers, and the red baseball cap is a large part of their tradition.
The cap was adopted by the 11th Parachute Maintenance Company in 1949, and has been around ever since. They are responsible for parachute packing for Airborne operations. The Riggers’ motto is “I will be sure always.”
The patrol cap is worn only with Army Combat Uniforms to help provide the best camouflage.
In 2011, the Army replaced the black beret with the patrol cap while the Soldier is wearing an Army Combat Uniform, however on Fort Bragg, people will see more berets than patrol caps. A reason for this is that Fort Bragg is home to specialized Soldiers who are allowed to wear their maroon, tan or green berets instead of the patrol cap.
Soldiers wear their cover whenever they are outside of a building on base unless otherwise specified. It is considered the finishing touch to the Soldier’s uniform.
(If you have any questions you’d like answered, please email me at AHansen@theparaglide.com.)