Often among the first soldiers to charge into dangerous situations, U.S. Army Rangers are not the kind of men to shy away from a battle. "They're tough hombres," says Ret. Maj. Gen. Charles "Pete" Spragins, 77, a decorated member of the elite, all-male corps.
They are also staunchly proud, especially when it comes to their official noncombat headgear: a black beret, worn pulled down on the right side (the Army's other elite units—the Special Forces and Airborne—wear green and maroon berets, respectively). So when the Army's Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, 58, declared black berets "a symbol of Army excellence" and announced in October that all soldiers would begin sporting them as of June, the Rangers were up in arms. "The Army needs to increase morale," says Ret. Maj. Jim Grimshaw, 59, a Vietnam veteran, who is organizing other vets to fight the change. "[Shinseki] thinks that by issuing a piece of cloth, that's going to happen. Well, it's not."
Despite the outcry from Ranger vets (active-duty Rangers are under a gag order not to discuss the topic), the Army still plans to issue about a million new black berets, replacing most headgear, including the fold-able "overseas caps" that have been standard since 1941. Universalizing the black beret "boldly states that the Army is an elite fighting force," says spokeswoman Martha Rudd. Grimshaw, however, remains unconvinced. "If he had picked dark blue, you wouldn't have heard a cry out of any of us," he says. But black? Get ready for a fight. "Rangers are known for their training and pride. We're not going to let this go easily."
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