- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2001

Once again, the press is wringing its hands over the state of the Army. Except this time, no one is throwing stones at our budget, war-fighting abilities or high operational tempo.

They're upset about our hats and television commercials.

The furor began last fall, when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki announced that the black beret, the symbol of the elite Ranger Regiment since 1975, would become the standard headgear for all soldiers in 2001. Then in January the Army launched a new recruiting campaign with its slogan, "An Army of One." Military pundits around the country disapproved of both initiatives. The Boston Globe called the Army commercials "bait and switch" advertising that might make recruits feel "duped" after they see the realities of military service. Another editorial called the beret decision a "devastating" symbol of the Pentagon's weak responses to significant military issues.

The Michigan-based Center for Military Readiness hates both directives so much it put them on a list of Armed Forces problems for the Bush-Cheney administration to investigate. Veterans groups and even some active-duty troops also openly expressed their disapproval of the programs.

With so many condemning the decisions of the Army's top brass, civilians must think the service is collapsing. But negative editorials aside, it will take a lot more than unpopular commercials and uniform modifications to bring down the nation's oldest military service. The Army's history on both issues shows we've weathered storms like these before.

According to its critics, the "Army of One" campaign ignores military unity, focuses on individual needs, and will attract undesirable enlistees.There is no doubt that the service requires patriotic soldiers who join for the Army's intrinsic rewards, but a recruitment campaign focused solely on such selfless ideals has rarely appealed to Americans in peacetime.

As far back as the Revolution, the Army attracted many of its soldiers with promises of immediate cash rewards and property. Immigrants who could not find civilian work were the frequent targets of Army recruiters in the 19th century. Promises of job training lured men into the service between World War II and the Korean War. After Vietnam, our slogan was "Today's Army wants to join YOU," a motto that invoked no military traditions and that the active force loathed.

The famous "Be All You Can Be" program was an improvement, but it often highlighted the Army's pay, programs for college savings, and opportunities to learn high-tech job skills over military values.

In 1981, a year after the campaign debuted, the Army Times complained that such pitches lowered the status of the service and attracted the wrong enlistees. An editorial stated, "The number of soldiers who cling to traditional dedication to 'Duty, Honor, Country' is dwindling."Another asked, "Are too many servicemen self-serving?"

Now "Be All You Can Be" is fondly remembered as one of the Army's most successful recruiting slogans. In contrast, a Department of Defense campaign, which ran at around the same time as the Army's, named the armed services as a "great place to start" and urged would-be recruits to "pick a challenge, set yourself apart." This program, which mixed the ideals of duty and individual skills training, survived only a few years.

Other critics oppose the beret order because they feel that proliferation of the formerly elite-only headgear will cheapen its symbology.They may be right, but we've been down a similar road before and survived.

In the late 1970s many Army units adopted distinctive Stetsons, baseball hats, and berets. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Bernard Rogers felt that the service had lost its uniformity and in 1979 banned most unique hats in favor of standard issue olive-drab caps.

Troops in the elite forces, like the 82nd Airborne Division, fumed about giving up their traditional maroon berets. The 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" grudgingly turned in the blue berets they wore to distinguish themselves as helicopter-borne assault troops. Soldiers debated the merits of the beret, but Gen. Rogers' directive remained in effect.

Other uniform changes brought similar gripes. Some sergeants disliked the 1981 order to wear their chevrons on shoulder boards, in the style of commissioned officers. Many soldiers lamented when the smart-looking and comfortable khaki uniforms were eliminated in the middle of the decade. Some troops even complained about the switch from olive-drab fatigues to our current camouflage pattern.

Obviously, these uniform updates did not cause the collapse of Army morale. Even without the black berets they wore before Gen. Rogers' ban, armor crewmen still formed our first line of defense along the Iron Curtain. Airborne troops adorned their caps with the wings and insignia that clearly identified them as paratroopers. Their maroon berets returned in 1980, but the soldiers were no less tough in the intervening time.

The troops of the 101st still wear standard army caps but are also recognized as an elite division. Their helicopter attacks in the Persian Gulf made history and set a standard the world is trying to follow.

The Army's critics have raised valid arguments against the "Army of One" advertisements and the beret order. But no matter why men and women join the Army or what they wear, professional leadership keeps them in. The young troops who enlisted for job training or college money in the late '70s and early '80s were midlevel leaders a decade later and won the Persian Gulf war .Many are still serving around the world. The same troops have endured uniform updates because adaptability is one of our hallmarks. As the Army's Command and General Staff College teaches, "Change is the only constant in the military profession."

Let's not forget that the senior military leaders who made these decisions have served through our Army's previous reformations and have seen how resilient the American soldier can be. Debate over the Army's programs will continue, but only time will disclose their effectiveness.

While pundits argue, American soldiers will roll with the changes as they always have. The latest issues are nothing more than our usual business.

Mike Schellhammer is a civilian intelligence specialist for the Department of the Army and is a major in the Army Reserves. The views expressed are his own.

Mike Schellhammer is a civilian intelligence specialist for the Department of the Army and is a major in the Army Reserves. The views expressed are his own.

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