- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

Daft is the appropriate description of the Army chief of staff's decision to issue the hard-earned black beret of the Rangers to all soldiers cooks and bakers, clerks and bandsmen and the GIs who count the shoelaces in the supply room. Gen. Erik Shinseki's diktat suggests that Potomac Fever is as virulent among the military brass as among politicians. Some generals and admirals forget what is important to the troops when they begin inhaling the exotic air at the Pentagon.

Gen. Shinseki's decision is a denigration of the terrific dedication and ability it takes to earn the shoulder tab of a Ranger and to be awarded the black beret. Evidently the green berets of the Special Forces and the maroon berets worn by paratroops also will be replaced by the all-hands black headgear thus diminishing the pride that these emblems represent.

To those who've never served, the beret fuss may seem parochial. A soldier's a soldier, right? Well, yes and no. It takes an unusual commitment to endure the often-brutal rigor of the training and earn the recognition that the warriors' berets confer and this in no way demeans the rest of the troops. As America's governing class increasingly tries to squeeze out the competitive juices (prizes for all school children in contests so no one's self-esteem will be dented, ending valedictorian designations and the like), it now appears the Army thinks it must further civilianize to attract recruits in which it now routinely falls short of requirements.

That is boneheaded. The Marine Corps, for instance, has been successful in attracting young Americans by the very fact of emphasizing how challenging its training is and how fulfilling it can be to prove oneself equal to it. Esprit de corps, that's known as.

The military is a different culture from that of the civilian world, and it must remain so if it is to be equal to its crucial obligations. By erasing distinctions, by dampening the pride of uncommon achievement, and by flattening the recognition of sacrifice and dedication, Gen. Shinseki's martial egalitarianism can be seen as more of the desperate effort to evolve from a proud and demanding subculture to a feel-good environment the erosion that Stephanie Gutmann details in her book, "The Kinder, Gentler Military."

A news report quoted a serving officer as saying that he would not want to be the first pay clerk or mechanic to wear a black beret into a Ranger bar. That's the real soldierly world about which Gen. Shinseki seems to have developed amnesia.

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