- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The Pentagon said yesterday that it had started a review of the Army's contested decision to issue the Rangers' exclusive black beret to all soldiers.
A spokesman said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also will look into a department decision last fall to bypass a "buy America" law to acquire the wool berets from low-wage factories in communist China and other Third World countries.
The review, requested last month by President Bush, was announced a day after Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to suspend the beret program until a new Army secretary examines it.
Mr. Wolfowitz's announcement culminates weeks of intense pressure from former soldiers and members of Congress. They argue that making the berets available to every soldier in the Army voids the uniqueness of the black beret for 3,000 Rangers, one of the Army's most elite combat groups.
"I think it's moving pretty quick and it's exciting," said ex-Ranger David Nielsen, who last week completed a 750-mile protest march from Fort Benning, Ga., to Washington. "I want to find the best way out for everyone. I don't want to see anyone embarrassed. Maybe there's not an 'A' or a 'B,' but maybe a 'C' position that makes everybody look good. Maybe khaki berets for soldiers."
A source close to the issue said Mr. Rumsfeld feels compelled to act in the face of widespread disagreement with the beret policy.
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who set out the policy in October as a symbol of "a transformed Army for the 21st century," is said to be discussing how he should respond if Mr. Rumsfeld suspends the program permanently. Congressional and Army sources say the four-star general is convinced he made the right decision and stubbornly defends it.
Asked a retired soldier who worked in the Bush campaign: "Can Shinseki take a hint?"
He notes the growing number of letters from Republican and Democratic congressmen opposing the general's decision, and the fact that the commander in chief ordered the Pentagon review.
The issue became further inflamed last week when The Washington Times reported that the Defense Logistics Agency bypassed the "Berry Amendment" and ordered hundreds of thousands of black berets from Third World countries, including China.
The amendment requires the Pentagon to buy clothing made of American components in American plants. The agency said waiving the law was the only way it could meet Gen. Shinseki's deadline of having all 474,000 active duty soldiers in a beret by June 14, the Army's birthday.
"I am also troubled by reports of the manner in which the berets are being procured," Mr. Warner said in his letter to Mr. Rumsfeld.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, wrote to Mr. Rumsfeld last week as well, saying "Taking the black beret away from Rangers complicates the laudable goal of creating esprit d'corps in the Army."
In the House yesterday, Rep. Lois Capps, California Democrat, circulated a letter to be signed by her colleagues that calls on Mr. Bush to consider terminating the foreign contracts.
"The seemingly arbitrary deadline for the new berets will cause U.S. firms to lose millions of dollars and send this important business to foreign companies," Mrs. Capps said.
"Military uniforms are a powerful symbol for U.S. soldiers, representing who they are and what they stand for. That is one reason why they are manufactured in our own country, except in times of crisis. The Army's decision to purchase the black berets from companies who manufacture them overseas may undermine the very morale and unity the Army is attempting to instill in its forces with its decision to outfit its soldiers in matching headgear."
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Mr. Wolfowitz will look at Gen. Shinseki's policy itself as well as the overseas contracts.
"There are several different facets to this overall topic, and the deputy secretary has been asked to take a look at each of them and come back holistically to the secretary with his recommendations on the way ahead," Adm. Quigley said. "His charter is very broad… . He'll move it along pretty quick."
There was confusion at the Pentagon after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced two weeks ago that the president himself wanted a review, and nothing happened. Mr. Rumsfeld then told reporters that he had not asked the Army for any information. His remarks were taken as a lack of enthusiasm for the president's instructions.
Mr. Fleischer yesterday repeated the president's instructions.
"This is something that DoD [Department of Defense] is looking at now," he said. "Secretary Rumsfeld will be addressing those questions.
"He said he has not asked the Army to do so. I think you should allow the secretary to speak for himself. The secretary is aware, certainly. He had a conversation with the president. So because he says he hasn't asked the Army to is not an indication of what Secretary Rumsfeld is or is not doing."
Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, complained personally about the beret policy last month to Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld during an Air Force One trip to an Army base in Georgia.


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