Ranger Thomas Nash, President of the E51/G75 LRRP/Ranger Association

October 31, 2000

General Eric Shinseki
Chief of Staff, United States Army
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0200

Dear General Shinseki:

I am writing to you, on behalf of the members of the Association that I represent, to request that you reconsider your recently announced decision to allow all members of the U. S. Army to wear the "Black Beret."

Let me explain. I am the President of the E51/G75 LRRP/Ranger Association. This Association represents the former LRRPs and Rangers who served their country proudly in Vietnam as members of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol ("LRRP") Detachment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade/ Americal Division, and its successor units - E Company (Long Range Patrol), 51st Infantry, Americal Division, and G Company, 75th Ranger Regiment, Americal Division. I'm sure that others have already evoked in countless messages to you, including the men of this Association, the long history of the Rangers and LRRPs and the Black Beret adopted by them, so I will not do so here. Rather I will speak of the men I represent, and their heartfelt and passionate feeling on this subject.

General, in your remarks at the AUSA convention on October 17, you stated, in part, that "regardless of rank, regardless of branch, regardless of component, every soldier who meets the standard will wear the Army beret." I can only suggest that in determining what constitutes that "standard", with all due respect, the men of this Association, and others like them over the years and through the wars and conflicts of this nation have already established it. To the men of this Association, the Black Beret represents a history, in the most meaningful interpretation of that word. The men of this Association consistently performed effectively and courageously in Vietnam, often under the most severe circumstances. They were tested and passed the test. Our ranks include men who have received numerous awards and citations: they include a Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously.

To our everlasting sorrow, our unit lost too many good men, and too many families lost good sons and husbands, while undertaking among the most dangerous missions assigned to any troops in Vietnam. The men of our unit paid a high cost, both individually and collectively, to win the right to wear that Black Beret. Even today, many of our members - my comrades - my brothers - continue their gallant fight since far too many of them battle an array of illnesses that we all know are related to their service in Vietnam. And yet, each of them would answer again if called. Their service was marked by the pursuit of a higher ideal of honor and country. And this spirit - the ultimate volunteerism - is embodied in the "Black Beret" - a unique and revered symbol embodying the finest traditions of brotherhood, sacrifice and duty to country. They have earned that Black Beret. I ask that you do not betray their trust by taking it from these men.

General Shinseki, let me suggest, with all due respect, that the man makes the beret, the beret does not make the man. Without the contributions of men like those in this Association, and other Rangers and LRRPs like them, the Black Beret would be a mere piece of cloth that the everyday soldier - the new recruit - could grow into. The men of our Association certainly applaud your efforts to raise the morale of the U.S. serviceman, and you have our support in that effort. But given the special qualifications of the men who have worn the Black Beret, extending the privilege of wearing it to every soldier diminishes in many of our eyes the feeling that our country understands and appreciates the sacrifices that they made, and which many still make.

I hope that you understand that this, and the many letters and emails you will receive on this subject are not simply resistance to change. It is passion - the same passion that distinguished the "Black Beret" in the first place, and which has reserved for us, and for those that follow us as Rangers and LRRPs, the right to wear it.

General, you have a responsibility to these men. I, and all of those who served as Rangers and LRRPs, will watch to see if you do the right thing.


Ranger Thomas J. Nash