Every so often, it seems, the Marines-wear-beret rumor rears its head. Usually it’s when leathernecks get the chance to question or schmooze with senior brass. Back before the Army in 2001 standardized the beret for all soldiers, every so often some bold and usually gung-ho junior Marine would ask or suggest the wear of berets. No commandant or uniform board approved such an idea, however.
Battle Rattle recalls a day back in the mid-‘90s, when a young Marine joined others greeting then-commandant Gen. Chuck Krulak on a ship’s mess decks asked the four-star general why Recon Marines couldn’t wear the black beret, so they could stand out as being, well, elite, he argued. The general quickly dismissed the question, although Battle Rattle wonders whether that Marine’s staff NCOs were less forgiving.
Even with the Army’s still-controversial adoption of the beret as universal head wear, Marines and the beret remain an ongoing curiosity. Sometimes, the question surfaces in the most unlikely place, at the oddest time. Most recently, it arose in the most unlikely crowd: Soldiers in South Korea.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to South Korea, where he would visit the Demilitarized Zone, meet with South Korea defense leaders and announce new U.S.-Republic of Korea “show of force” exercises designed to remind North Korea of repercussions for its March torpedoing of the ROK ship Cheonan. The sinking is the latest act by the North to heighten already rocky tension in the Far East.
Suffice it to say, the Pentagon chief had a full plate of heavy issues, but on his July 20 arrival he took some time to take a few questions from soldiers at Camp Casey, an Army garrison in Seoul. A couple of soldiers – all wearing the black berets authorized by the Army – asked about the Defense Department’s ongoing plans to extend Korea tours to three-year for married service members. One soldier asked about the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. But then came an out-of-the-ballpark question.
“Is there any revelation about our Marines going to patrol caps or berets?” a soldier asked, hinting that “counterparts would like to ask.”
The question surely was unexpected. “First I’ve heard of it,” Gates responded, laughing. “They don’t tell me these things.”
Just what fueled the question isn’t clear. Was it wild speculation or scuttlebutt that’s bouncing around the joint commands and camps in South Korea or perhaps some secret covert plan underway on the peninsula?
Battle Rattle asked a manpower and reserve affairs spokeswoman in Quantico, Va., who chuckled at the notion but said she hadn’t heard of any policy change. Bill Johnson-Miles, a Marine Corps Systems Command spokesman, said the command likewise hadn’t heard and hadn’t gotten any recommendations about berets “to even consider adopting them.”