Inciting the ire of the Rangers wasn't the Army's only fashion faux pas. There was the prickly little matter that the Army had contracted out production of some of the 2.6 million berets to China. That didn't sit well with new Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who promptly canceled the order. The Army ended up paying China for 600,000 berets it won't be distributing to the troops. Luckily for burgeoning fashionistas, the extras will likely be sold in Army surplus stores.
That controversial chapeau, the black beret, begins settling on Army heads this week. By Thursday, a third of the Army's 1.3 million active and reserve troops will be wearing the new lids, soon the whole Army will. The simple makeover has been turning heads, but not in a good way. The decision by the Army last October to make the berets part of the uniform enraged the elite Army Rangers, who were suddenly losing their distinctive symbol. After much debate, the Rangers agreed to switch to tan berets, which they say are reminiscent of the D-Day beaches, sand in the Persian Gulf and khaki uniforms worn in Vietnam and Korea.