Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the rules for wearing these new berets, which are authorized by Air Force Special Operations Command. The change is not an Air Force-wide policy change.
Air Force Special Operations Command will unveil a newly approved beret for members of its Combat Aviation Advisor community during a ceremony Saturday at Duke Field, Florida.
Airmen in the more than a dozen career fields included in the community will be able to don a brown beret for the first time during the ceremony, which will be officiated by Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
However, CAAs will only be able to wear the berets while assigned to AFSOC, because the change is not an Air Force-wide policy change. Instead, it is an AFSOC major command functional uniform authorization, said Lt. Col. Peter Hughes, spokesman for AFSOC.
“This level of authorization comes from Gen. Webb, as a three-star commander of a major command. He can authorize it for in-garrison, home station wear, based on specific requirements that are met in order to be a Combat Aviation Advisor,” Hughes told Air Force Times.
In essence, CAAs will not be “authorized to wear the berets the same way PJs, CCTs, TACPs, SERE instructors, or even AF security forces airmen do, because all of those are authorized for wear as part of the uniform under Air Force Instruction 36-2903,” Hughes said in an email.
If a CAA is stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, they can wear the new beret there, but “if they’re at the Pentagon, or say they’re at Maxwell [AFB], at the Air War College, they’re not authorized to wear it,” Hughes added.
Combat Aviation Advisors are responsible for “integrating with ground-based Special Operations Force advisers to conduct special operations activities by, with, and through foreign aviation forces,” according to the Air Force.
The specialized advisers are equipped to deploy to hostile and friendly regions to train allied nations’ aviation units in tactics, techniques and procedures. CAAs have existed in their current form since the early 1990s, but demand by allies abroad has always outpaced supply.
Over the past several years, the need for these advisers among U.S. allies has exploded, according to an April 2016 press release. Because of this, the CAA presence finally grew to meet the mission across the globe.
In order to apply for the CAA position, airmen must be an expert in their field, prove language proficiency on the defense language aptitude battery, have excellent physical fitness scores, and have a personality that matches the demands of advising different cultures.
“We need people who are charismatic and can help further relationships with our partner nations,” said Master Sgt. Todd Chandler, 6th Special Operations Squadron operations superintendent. “The training is rigorous and challenging. It makes you think outside the box.”
If chosen, a candidate undergoes a 12- to 18-month training program, specifically designed to create advisers who are “foreign language proficient, regionally-oriented, politically astute, and culturally aware aviation experts,” according to Air Force Special Operations Command.
Training is broken down into four phases: tactical field craft, adviser trade craft, culture and language training, and AFSC training specific to each adviser’s career field.
Airmen in 18 AFSCs are eligible to apply for CAA training. They include special operations pilot, combat systems officer, Air Liaison Officer, intelligence analyst, security forces and general medical officer.
“There are approximately 250 Active Duty and Reserve members in the CAA community,” said Lt. Col. James Wilson, Chief of Public Affairs at the 919th Special Operations Wing, in an email to Air Force Times.
President John F. Kennedy awarded the Green Beret to U.S. Army Special Forces before it was officially authorized. The CAA community similarly presented their beret prototype to President Donald Trump on July 18, 2017.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.