Military forces have worn distinctive uniform items for centuries to create a psychological advantage and boost their esprit de corps, but the military use of berets is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Scottish Highland troops wore a “bonnet” in the 17th and 18th centuries, while the headgear most people now know as the beret was worn in the Basque region of
But widespread use of the beret among Western armies didn’t begin until the 20th century, when French tank crews in World War I wore both the small Basque version and a larger, floppier variety.
In the 1920s, British tank crews began searching for an alternative to their stiff khaki service-dress cap, which just wasn’t practical for duty inside the relatively new armored vehicles.
The cap had to be worn backwards to use the gunner’s sights, with the chin strap down to keep it on the head.The light wool serge fabric soon became home for grease stains as it was clutched and adjusted by soiled fingers.
In 1924, the tankers came up with a black wool beret whose size fell in between the two French versions and was bound with black leather featuring an adjustable ribbon that ran around to tie in the back.
When the British tankers added their traditional “Fear Naught” emblem above the left eye, they had a snappy piece of headgear that quickly became famous for its distinctiveness and grew to be the symbol of armored formations around the world.
The military popularity of berets soared during the World War II era when various British units donned the headgear in several colors, including a khaki brown variety adopted by Special Air Services troops and a maroon variety worn by Britain’s first airborne force, the Parachute Regiment, that became affectionately known as the “cherry berry.”
Legend has it that the color was picked by novelist Daphne du Maurier, wife of Maj.
Gen. Frederick Browning, one of
Berets Debut in
The first use of the modern beret in the
In 1951, the Marine Corps experimented with green and blue berets, but dismissed them because they looked too “foreign” and “feminine.”
The first widespread use of the headgear by
In the 1970s, Army policy allowed local commanders to encourage morale-enhancing uniform distinctions, and the use of berets boomed. Armor personnel at
Troops of the 82nd Airborne Division at
In 1975, the Airborne Rangers got approval from the Army Chief of Staff to use the black beret as their official headgear.
Over the next few years, the whole thing got out of hand, and in 1979 senior Army officials put on the brakes,
Air Force Berets
Wear of berets in the Air Force began in the 1970s. In 1979, the black beret was authorized for wear by enlisted personnel in the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) AFSC (job). In 1984, two airman from Pope Air Force Base,
These days, the
His decision set off a firestorm in both the active-duty and veteran Ranger community as well as in the Army’s other two special operations camps, the Special Forces and the airborne.
In 2002, the Army made the tan-color beret the official beret of the U.S. Army Rangers, and all Army soldiers began wearing the black beret.
Current Army Berets
- Black - All soldiers
- Maroon - Airborne units (Paratroopers)
- Tan - Ranger Battalions
- Green - Special Forces units
Current Air Force Berets
- Black - Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), Air Liaison Officers (ALO), and Air Mobility Liaison Officers (AMLO)
- Maroon - Pararescue
- Red (scarlet) - Combat Controllers
- Royal Blue - Security Forces
- Grey - Combat Weather
Much of the Above Information Courtesy of the Pacific Stars & Stripes. Special thanks to MSgt Charlie Heidal of www.romad.com and