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A petition calling for the tan beret to be authorized for wear only by soldiers in the 75th Ranger Regiment has garnered more than 2,500 signatures in less than a week.
“It’s one of those things that annoys battalion Rangers, because we take so much pride in the tan beret,” said Patrick Nelson, a former Ranger who wrote the change.org petition.
The petition calls for the tan beret to be limited only to those who have successfully completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, or its predecessor, the Ranger Indoctrination Program.
RASP is a requirement for soldiers who want to be assigned to one of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s three battalions.
Army regulations allow soldiers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Ranger Training Brigade to wear the tan beret.
Ranger-qualified soldiers who previously served in the Ranger Regiment who are now assigned to Special Operations Command, Army Special Operations Command, Special Operations Command Joint Task Force and Theater Special Operations Command also are authorized the tan beret.
The Ranger Training Brigade is responsible for running Ranger School, but it is not connected to the regiment, Nelson said.
Nelson’s petition essentially calls for the Army to disallow soldiers in the RTB from wearing the tan beret.
“The first thing I would say is it’s definitely not about taking anything away from RTB and what they do,” Nelson said. “I’m a graduate of Ranger School. I’m immensely proud of earning my Ranger tab, but that’s what you get when you go through Ranger School. When battalion Rangers go through RASP, our goal is to go to battalion, become a special operations Ranger. The symbol that we apply to that is the tan beret.”
Soldiers who graduate from RASP receive their tan berets in a graduation ceremony, Nelson said.
“There’s a ceremony, they call it donning the tan beret,” he said. “It’s a big moment for us.”
The 75th Ranger Regiment is aware of the petition, said Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for the regiment.
“This is being done by an organization not affiliated with the 75th Ranger Regiment,” he said. “It’s not something we’re behind or supporting.”
Berets have long been a sensitive issue for those serving in the Ranger Regiment.
In October 2000, then-Chief of Staff Gen Eric Shinseki chose the black beret, which the Rangers had worn in conflicts dating back to the Korean War, for the bulk of the Army. Many viewed the decision as taking a symbol that belonged to the elite, light infantry force and simply “giving” it away to the entire Army.
The move inspired everything from a formal lobbying campaign organized by veterans’ groups to try and derail the chief’s order in Congress, to an actual march to Washington by former Rangers.
In July 2001, members of the regiment switched to the tan berets they wear today, marking the end of one of the most controversial transitions in Army history.
Thousands of people have voiced their support for Nelson’s petition.
“They’ve already taken our beret once,” Brian Winningham wrote. “It should have never happened, and it must never happen again.”
John Bellissimo voiced his support as well.
“As a retired member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, I firmly believe that the honor of wearing the tan beret needs to lie with the men who earned it by completing the selection process,” he wrote online. “Bottom line, no questions asked, these men live and die the Ranger life. It’s not just a school for them.”
Ellen Dimock wrote: “My son [killed in action] Spc. Joseph W. Dimock II earned his, and he was very proud of his beret, his tan beret.”
Another supporter, Thomas Hili, wrote: “One of the proudest days was when I was able to wear my beret. Like the saying goes: the tab is a school, the scroll is a way of life, and our beret is that symbol.”
Nelson, who served in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 2005 to 2010 and completed five combat deployments, said he decided on a whim to post the change.org petition.
He has been surprised by the response he’s received, particularly when he reads the comments left by those who support the petition, Nelson said.
“When you hear these people’s stories and how much the regiment means to them, there are Gold Star mothers talking about how their son was KIA and he wanted to be buried with his tan beret,” he said. “Reading stuff like that is when I realized I have a serious responsibility to try to get the word out.”