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Special Event

Army Settles the Battle Over Berets

Aired March 16, 2001 - 1:17 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we are going to head over to the Pentagon. They're going to make it official about the beret knit hats.

And here it is.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm here with General Shinseki, the chief of staff of the Army, to discuss the way ahead on that question, and I'm here to offer my support for the decisions that have been reached by the Army and for General Shinseki specifically. He and I chatted yesterday about his view of this issue, and I thought it was very important for him to give that same view to you and to the American people.

General? Go ahead.

GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Dr. Wolfowitz.

And I've got a short opening statement, and we'll provide written copies.

These beret decisions, both the decision regarding the black beret last October and the one regarding the tan beret yesterday, are about change. And the Army is going to change, it will change to remain the most capable and the most respected army in the world.

And change, as all of us know, is difficult, and especially in proud and respected institutions. But we are transforming this most powerful army from its Cold War legacy force into an objective force that will be strategically responsive and dominant for all the broad range of missions we are asked to perform.

Now, many different units have worn berets throughout our history, and in the case of the black beret, other formations, to include armor units, cavalry units, other infantry units, have worn it over time. And because of that shared history in our Army, the black beret remains the most relevant color for wear Army-wide today.

And so at the time of our decision last fall to expand the wear of the black beret, the Ranger regiment was invited to consider, if appropriate, another distinctive color that it might select to designate its formations. And after considering several options over these intervening months, the regiment requested and the Army has approved the tan beret for wear by Rangers.

Now the Ranger tan beret will continue to symbolize that great regiment and its challenges for the 21st century. And whatever those challenges are, Rangers will continue to lead the way.

These decisions are about our excellence as soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an institution. Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley is working on an implementation plan, and that work should be done soon.

This is about building trust and confidence in our formations, our formations that will be defending this country in the 21st century. This is about teamwork, teamwork that's based on that foundation of trust and confidence between soldier and soldier, between leader and led, between unit and unit serving side by side all across the Army. So this is about the magnificence of that American soldier who has been defending our country for 225 years.

And with that opening statement, I'll be happy to take some questions.

QUESTION: General, the special forces, the Rangers, at first dug in their heels on this and said, "No." I mean, they have agreed with this compromise. Did you realize what a stink this was going to cause when you made the announcement, made the decision? Did you consider that?

SHINSEKI: I think we expected there would be some push back. I mean, exactly what it was going to be, no one is ever quite sure. But, yes, we expected there would be some expressions of concern. I mean, these are important things to our units.

QUESTION: You said this was about change. Exactly what kind of change were you trying to implement by going to all black berets throughout the Army?

SHINSEKI: Well, we are putting the black berets into most of our Army units. As you know, the special forces will retain their distinctive green berets, airborne forces will retain their maroon berets. But for the most part, the one color that's been relevant across many of our formations that have been involved in change in the past, you know, has been this black beret. And so, as we work toward the transformation that the Army has undertaken. And it will go on for about the next 10 years.

ALLEN: So the U.S. Army settles its beret flap. As you heard the chief of staff, the Army will remain -- quote -- "strategically responsive and dominant" -- end quote. And it will be so in black berets. The Rangers, as we've reported, were upset because they had always worn the distinctive black beret.

Now the standard issue will be black berets for everyone. But the Rangers will get a distinctive tan beret. Go Army!

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