Army will trade in berets

COLUMBIA --- It's hot, it doesn't keep the sun out of your eyes, and you need two hands and a mirror to make sure it's on straight.

After 10 years of complaints, the Army is all but ditching the black wool beret and allowing soldiers to go back to the old brimmed patrol cap for everyday duties.

"It's the military equivalent of being able to wear a baseball cap to work," said Col. Pete Brooks, of the South Carolina Army National Guard. "Wearing the beret in 100-degree South Carolina heat was like wearing a wet piece of black wool on your head."

Army Secretary John McHugh ordered the change to take effect Tuesday, the service's 236th birthday.

Elite units in the 1.1-million-member Army will continue to wear their colored berets as a mark of honor -- green for Special Forces, tan for Rangers, maroon for airborne troops. But other soldiers will have to pull out the black beret only for special events, such as change-of-command ceremonies.

"This just makes things a little bit easier for us," said Staff Sgt. Mylinda DuRousseau, who works with the 3rd Army at nearby Shaw Air Force Base.

Putting the thing on right was a three-step process, DuRousseau said: First, adjust the blue patch over the left eye; next, use two hands to straighten it; then, pull it on far enough so it stayed put.

In fact, the Army had to install mirrors at entries and exits so soldiers could be sure they had it on properly.

As for the patrol cap -- a soft, 50-50 cotton-nylon blend that looks like a flat-top baseball hat in camouflage green -- "you could reach in your pocket and flip it on, and just keep moving," Brooks said.

The change is one of several new uniform adjustments. Another switch will be a return to dressier uniforms for Army men and women inside the Pentagon, a step ordered to spiff up the Army's image.