MARCH 12, 2001
Bad leadership exacerbated
© 2001

Just when the military community was bemoaning, "it couldn't get any worse," guess what? It has!

Adding insult to injury, "The Pentagon bypassed a 'buy America' law to meet the Army's rush demand for 3 million black berets," reports Rowan Scarborough for the Washington Times, "and awarded contracts to firms manufacturing the headgear in communist China and other Third World countries." What?

As if the black beret flap were not contentious a topic enough, now some chairborne dweeb apparently not satisfied with insulting the Army special operations community exacerbates the problem by gifting the Communist Red Chinese (who by their own words consider us an enemy and have instructed their forces to prepare for war with the United States) with a commercial order for millions of black beanies.

Those who thought the absence of the Clinton regime would end government action sufficient to gag maggots were premature.

Former Army Rangers and their Special Ops brethren are lobbying members of Congress to overturn the decision by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, last October to issue the black headgear to all soldiers. However, the clock is ticking, and June 14 is the scheduled issue date.

Scarborough notes, "The Rangers are hot because China, in the midst of a huge military buildup, is regarded by U.S. military planners as a potential adversary as it broadens its influence in the Pacific, and threatens Taiwan, an old American ally." And that is an understatement; read my interviews with Bill Gertz and Steven Mosher.

One Senate defense aide is quoted by Scarborough as saying, "I think it's embarrassing for our country for our soldiers to wear uniforms made in communist China." You damnbetcha! But then the same aide says, "We've got to help Gen. Shinseki find a way out of this."


Shinseki is a big boy. He wears four stars, and is the Army chief of staff. We don't, and shouldn't, have to do jack-spit to "help Gen. Shinseki."

President Bush asked the Defense Department to reconsider in the wake of protests. Hello! The commander in chief has asked that someone reconsider this mess. If protests and pressure build that "request" can and arguably should be turned into an order. The president has given Shinseki an escape route; an opportunity to claim rescinding the order is his. If he is smart enough to accept it and craft an adequate exit strategy, he can actually enhance his position. However, if he digs in his heels and continues to defend the indefensible, he deserves the contempt, rancor and directions to the exit he now has a chance to avoid.

In the wake of months of complaining about the Army's ill-conceived idea of gifting black berets to all soldiers in a misguided attempt of shoring up flagging esprit de corps, I eventually wrote about it in January, "More than a funny hat." Gen. Eric Shinseki's fast track idea of putting exclusive black beanies on all GIs is beyond dumb. It is insulting.

I have frequently mentioned that I used to have a poster behind my desk which was a green beret on a black background with two lines printed that read, "It says more about you ... than you can ever say about yourself." I asked previous readers to please remember those words. It is a refrain that should be repeated and repeated and mailed, faxed and e-mailed to the Defense Department over and over and over and over again -- every day from now until this insult is rescinded.

My friend and colleague Jon Dougherty wrote, "one high-profile critic of Shinseki's decision is Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the revered former commandant of the United States Marine Corps, who thinks the Army chief of staff's decision was confusing." He quoted Gen. Krulak's response to something I said, but as I noted in my January piece, an overly sensitive editor deleted my comment to the general. My original question was "Do you know Eric Shinseki?" to which he replied, "Yes." I continued with a special request of Gen. Krulak: "Please tell him if or when you see him to kiss my Airborne butt."

Krulak, who is far more gracious and politic than this writer said, "I really don't know why Eric did that. He's a good man, but I think this is one where he probably made a call that he is going to end up regretting -- and probably retracting."

Shinseki appears to be in the "perfumed prince" mode of defending the indefensible and making his bad decision fact because he is the top Army honcho and therefore infallible. The longer he allows this bad idea to flourish the more he diminishes his own reputation.

Let's get something straight: This beret flap is not "Ike jackets." It is not abandoning brown shoes for black shoes. It is not the introduction of a sweater -- or ugly raincoats. This is a symbol of distinction and elitism; the black beret is earned, not general issue.

Gen. Krulak told me, "One of my dear friends spent three tours in Vietnam with Special Forces and, when he read [about the black beret order] on the front page of the Washington Post, it was to him the ultimate slap in the face. I mean, that would be like our Marine War Memorial, taking one of those Marines off of that statue."

I have often used the Teddy Roosevelt "In the Arena" quote. I used to carry it in my wallet when I attended Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, Jungle Expert and other military schools. It is poignant, and I'll use it again. Listen, most of the military guys I hear from know that no funny hat or badge or tab makes them any more or less what they have become. If you were to line up 100 soldiers in their underwear a 6th-grader could tell the difference between the elite and the rest.

As Teddy said, "It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."