Men In Black Berets
Rev. Abp. Antonio Hernández, O.M.D.
'a black-béreted, sleek, lean, mean defense machine'

General Shinseki, Sir:
You Gave Away the Black Berets.

The Scots Bluebonnet (in Scots Gaelic, Bonaid) was a survival must for our Scots ancestors and friends, from ancient times. Deep midnight navy blue in color, the Bluebonnet is in truth a béret. The Celts had long ago borrowed this unique cover from the Romans, who presumably invented it.

Ever since the Scots adopted it for military use, the first command shouted to the men was, "HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS!" because any good Scots warrior, not just the commanders, could easily be fragged if he lost his béret. That’s because the Bluebonnet has always served as a badge of identification as well as distinction. This in turn also gave us the expression "blown cover".

The Bluebonnet not only identified the distinction but also distinguished the man wearing it, by bearing sprigs, feathers, and so forth to show Clan and allegiance. The military béret flash is a Scottish invention and the Bluebonnet had to be deep blue. Anything else was major sissy stuff.

Identification and distinction were matters of absolute survival to the ancient warrior, much as today. If a warrior lost whatever symbol identified and distinguished him, it was either due to his being stripped of it in punishment, or by the enemy, in captivity or at death. He wore his symbol not only with due pride, but as a talisman. The symbol said, "I am Such-and-So, I belong to This-or-That Battalion, I have accomplished great things-- DON’T MESS WITH ME."

Identification and distinction… these things are earned in their mutually connected context. A man is identified in a certain way, then distinguished by it-- thus becoming distinguished in his identification and identified by his distinction. The United States Army Rangers earned their identification and distinction through the toughest, finest military training and battle-testing in the world. Their badges of identification and distinction? The black béret. It gave the Rangers their nickname, the Black Berets, and they were legendary well before the Green Berets came along.

General of the U.S. Army Eric Shinseki decided to do away with all that in the summer of 2001. Just as the Basque, Spanish and French farmers often use their ever-present bérets to wipe away sweat and grime during work, the Black Berets have wiped away their (and our) blood, sweat and tears with their black bérets. They have wiped away the Enemy on countless battlefields. The Rangers’ Black Berets wipe away any and every threat to us and our beloved country, any second of any day of the year. Now, Gen. Shinseki has seen fit to wipe that away-- and that’s a thing this man should have never tried-- no one should try such a thing. It is no more than an act of Judas-goating the people.
The average dogface of yesteryear was not much more to look at than those of today, but those of today are unworthily identified and distinguished by black bérets. They have had the black béret usurped for them on their behalf, just for signing up. This is supposed to represent the U.S. Army of the 21st century: a black-béreted, sleek, lean, mean defense machine. I’m here to say that just as mere stripes do not a true sergeant make, a black béret does not a true soldier form. Before the usurpation, the black béret was awarded to the elite fighter; he earned it, the Ranger and the LRRPman-- a far cry indeed from P.F.C. Sadsack Dogface.

It is precisely because of this that the true Black Berets will continue training, fighting, sacrificing, setting examples for all other soldiers, and obeying orders. They will turn over in their hands, and reflect upon, the crappy-khaki béret that was offered to them after their blood-earned black bérets were robbed. And they will be angry, hurt in a way people never stop and think a soldier can be hurt, a way that makes captivity and death pale by comparison. Because they’ve been robbed of much more than just a black béret. They have been robbed of their history, they have been robbed of the outstanding symbol of their identification, their distinction, and their dedication. But never forget-- especially you, Gen. Shinseki, and all you dogfaces-- that there is no action that can rob the Rangers of their honor or their accomplishments.

© E.A. Hernandez September 2002

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