The Black Beret – a brief history:

The beret is European in origin – not American.  The word “beret” is defined in the New American Heritage Dictionary as “a round, visorless cloth cap, worn originally by male Basques.  [French béret, from Old Gascon barret, cap, from Late Latin birrus (of obscure version), hooded cape.] The word beret can be traced back to the early nineteenth century and this particular type of headgear has its roots in the northern mountainous regions of Spain and southern France, the Pyrennes, in a cap called boina. The boina {Basque for beret] is a small, round woolen cap with a flattened top, and still typifies Basque peasant dress. Incidentally, the Basque region also has its own network of guerrillas, the ETA (Euskadi ta AskatasunaBasque Fatherland and Liberty) whose principal aim is to create an independent Basque state.  They are held responsible for the deaths of 800 people. The beret was introduced in Spain during the First Carlist War from 1833-39 and red identified the wearer as a Carlist (txapelgorri in Basque, that took the meaning of “Carlist soldier”) and Isabellines wore white berets. Today the Basque police force, the Ertzaintza, wears red berets.

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Some of the early settlers on the American continent were of Scottish and Irish decent.  These men brought along bonnets as headgear.  Made of cloth and wide brimmed, these caps were usually blue, although some merchants sold them in various colors as well. Their origin stems as far back as the 17th century and there is evidence that bonnets were of several types – cut and sewn, knitted and woven.

One noted Ranger historian interested in preserving his era’s contribution to the beret history writes: “American Rangers did not wear Berets in colonial times. The French were the enemy.” The French, though a fashion conscious lot, probably had no impact on the headgear choices of colonial Rangers.  He further stipulates that although no headdress was standardized, Rangers who could acquire them, preferred to wear the Balmoral Bonnets – a bonnet with a round ball on top, the ball usually red.  This is of course absurd.  What woodsman would wear a brightly colored bonnet or beret?  But one thing Rangers would probably not be wearing would be colors that would alert the enemy.  Noted colonial Ranger scholar Gary S. Zaboly describes in his masterful book The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers that:  “I recall a battle reenactment between Rangers and French forces.  The Rangers came slinking down a tree-clad hill to surprise the enemy in the flank.  Even though the trees were in full foliage, I could still make out the red poms and the light-to-middle blue bonnets plunging down the slope, and then I realized that the Rangers of the 1750s, in the field at least, would never have worn bonnets this particular shade of blue, and especially not with red poms on them.” During the colonial period Zaboly concludes Rangers wore a multitude of different headgear – from animal skins, to jockey caps and bonnets in various colors and other felt hats usually cut down to brims about two inches wide.

In 1891 the French mountain troops, Les Chasseurs Alpins, adopted an extremely large version of the beret.  The color chosen or easily found at the local merchant or supplier was dark blue.  Some time earlier French Marines had worn a normal sized dark blue beret.

With the advent of industrialization and the wholesale slaughter of infantry during the Great War, soldiers returned to the early traditions of wearing steel helmets but “it also introduced berets into the main-stream of Western military uniforms.  Nearly all sources identify the tank as the causal agent.  Its cramped and obstructive confines compelled the British Royal Tank Corps, for one, to adopt a more functional headgear than their cumbersome and easily stained khaki cap.  Officially adopted in 1924, the new British black Beret was a compromise between the ‘skimpy’ beret of the Basque peasant and the ‘sloppy’ beret of the French Chasseurs Alpins.” European armies adopted the beret universally as well as permanently.

During the Second World War, the U.S. Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion, commonly known as Darby’s Rangers, formed in Northern Ireland in 1942 and began its long association with the world renowned British Commandos.  Completion of training at the Commando Depot afforded those Rangers the right to wear the British Commando Green Beret and the tartan of the Clan Cameron of Lochiel. The U.S. Army did not authorize it and Darby’s Rangers never donned their berets.  Instead, in an effort to Americanize these specialty troops, permitted each Ranger to wear the Ranger Scroll on his left shoulder, identifying him as a member of the:  “1stRANGER Bn.”

Another similar example would be that of the maroon beret.  In 1942, the British Paratroopers began wearing the beret.  “The maroon beret was first seen by German troops in North Africa, and within months they had christened the ferocious Paras ‘Rote Teufel’ – Red Devils.  This distinctive headdress, since adopted by parachute troops all over the world, was officially introduced at the direction of General Browning, and the Pegasus symbol – Bellerophon astride winged Pegasus – became the emblem of British Airborne Forces. In 1943, General Browning granted a battalion of the U.S. Army’s 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment honorary membership in the British Parachute Regiment and authorized them to wear British maroon berets.

In 1951 and again in 1976, the U.S. Marine Corps flirted with the idea of wearing berets, blue and green in color, but decided not to adopt them.  In 1951, the 10th Airborne Ranger Company put their men in black berets, but they were only locally authorized and only worn briefly until their deployment to Korea to join the 45 Infantry Division.

In the U.S. Army, Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA) policy from 1973 through 1979 permitted local commanders to encourage morale-enhancing distinctions, and Armor and Armored Cavalry personnel wore black berets as distinctive headgear until Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA) Bernard W. Rogers banned all such unofficial headgear in 1979.  Other units that had worn the black beret included: Company F (LRP), 52d Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, in 1967 in the Republic of Vietnam; Company H (Ranger), 75th Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division, in 1970 in the Republic of Vietnam; and Company N  (Ranger), 75th Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade, in 1971 in the Republic of Vietnam.  A brown or olive beret was worn in Alaska by the 172d Infantry Brigade as well as members of the brigades 1/60th Infantry who wore their brown berets with light blue flash insignias.   E Troop/17th CAV wore a tan colored beret from 1965-67.

Black berets again were authorized in the 1970s for U.S. Army personnel assigned to Ranger units and for all female soldiers. The newly minted Rangers of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, 75th Infantry (airborne) received authorization to wear their black berets officially via AR 670-5, Uniform and Insignia.  The date: 30 January 1975.  The Rangers switched to tan on June 14th, 2001.

Ranger Tan Beret Statement

Fellow Rangers,

The purpose in writing this note is to inform you that the 75th Ranger Regiment will exchange our traditional Black Beret for a Tan Beret. The Army’s donning of the Black Beret, as its standard headgear is a symbol of the “Army’s on-going Transformation” and a “symbol of excellence.” The 75th Ranger Regiment fully supports our Army’s initiative to don the Black Beret.

The Tan color of the new Ranger Beret reinvigorates the historical and spiritual linkage throughout the history of the American Ranger. It is the color of the buckskin uniforms and animal skin hats of Rogers’ Rangers, the first significant Ranger unit to fight on the American continent, and the genesis of the American Ranger lineage. Tan is the one universal and unifying color that transcends all Ranger Operations. It reflects the Butternut uniforms of Mosby’s Rangers during the American Civil War. It is reminiscent of the numerous beach assaults in the European Theater and the jungle fighting in the Pacific Theaters of World War II, where Rangers and Marauders spearheaded victory. It represents the khaki uniform worn by our Korean and Vietnam War era Rangers and the color of the sand of Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Mogadishu, where modern day Rangers lead the way as they fought and, at times, valiantly died accomplishing the Ranger mission. Tan rekindles the legacy of Rangers from all eras and exemplifies the unique skills and special capabilities required of past, present, and future Rangers.

The Ranger Tan Beret will distinguish Rangers in the 21st Century as the Black Beret recognized them as a cut above in the past. With the donning of this new Beret, rest assured that the 75th Ranger Regiment will continue to Lead the Way with its high standards.

I made this decision because I feel it is best for the Ranger Regiment and our Army, today and in the future.

Following the announcement that on 14 June 2001 the Army would adopt the Black Beret as its standard headgear I asked the Regimental Command Sergeant Major to put together a uniform committee to examine some possible uniform options for the Regiment. These options included maintaining the current Black Beret, adding distinctive insignia to the Black Beret, and adopting a different color beret (ultimately six different colors were examined). The committee I established met three times over two months to consider input from Rangers of all ranks in the Regiment. The members of this group included the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, DCO [Deputy Commanding Officer], RSM [Regimental Sergeant-Major], CSMs [Command Sergeant-Major] of each Battalion, and 1SGs of RHHC [Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company] and RTD [Ranger Training Detachment].

From the initial options, the committee narrowed consideration to maintaining the current Black Beret, augmenting the Black Beret with a WWII Ranger ‘diamond’ patch attached next to the flash, and an option of replacing the Black Beret with a Tan colored beret. The committee explored each option historically giving equal consideration to its appearance when donned with each of our uniforms. After receiving input from the units, the Tan Beret was selected.

Shortly after 1st Ranger Battalion was reactivated in 1974, the Army formally authorized the Black Beret for Rangers. By so doing, I do not believe it was saying the Rangers were different from the rest of the Army, but that they were distinctive within the Army, that more was expected of them, and that they would set the standards for the rest of the Army. They would be asked to “Lead the Way” as Rangers had done since WWII.

As today’s Rangers follow in the footsteps of those who preceded them, they continue to uphold the high standards of the Regiment as they prepare for tomorrow’s battles. Changing from the Black Beret to the Tan Beret is not about being different from the rest of the Army, but about a critical aspect that unifies our Army and makes it the best Army in the world — High Standards.

One of the Rangers most visible distinctive “physical features” is the beret. In the past, the beret distinguished the Rangers and acknowledged that they are expected to maintain higher standards, move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldiers. I believe Rangers today and in the years to come deserve that same distinction.

Rangers have never been measured by what they have worn in peace or combat, but by commitment, dedication, physical and mental toughness, and willingness to Lead the Way — Anywhere, Anytime. The Beret has become one of our most visible symbols, it will remain so.

Unity within our Army is absolutely critical to combat readiness and Rangers have always prided themselves in being part of that unity. Unity among Rangers, past and present, is essential to moving forward and ensuring we honor those who have put the combat streamers on our colors and acknowledge the sacrifices and dedication of the Rangers and their families who serve our nation today.

I hope that when our Army dons the Black Beret and our Rangers put on the Tan Beret we will move forward and focus on what is ultimately the most important task in front of us — ensuring the continued high state of Readiness of the Ranger Regiment. We can do that by training hard and taking care of our Rangers and their families. The continued support of all Rangers to our Army is important to sustaining that Readiness.

Thanks to our Army, The 75th Ranger Regiment today is fully resourced and combat ready. Our focus in the future is maintaining that high state of readiness.

Again, thanks to each of you for everything you have done for our nation and our Rangers.

Rangers Lead the Way!

P.K. Keen

Colonel, Infantry

11th Colonel of the Regiment

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1976, pages 124-125., pages 69-70.
Gary Zaboly, American Colonial Ranger, Osprey Publishing:  Oxford, 2004, page 60.
Documented History of Ranger Headdress by Robert Black
Illustrated, page 311.
Timothy J. Todish and Gary S. Zaboly, The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers, Purple Mountain Press:  New York, 2002. Pages 292-322.
Carl Lehman, Darby Ranger interview/email.
Gung Ho Magazine,, October 1984, The Ranger Beret by Robert Black, pages 32-33
Roy Boatman interview

The New Flash for the 75th Ranger Regiment
(U.S. Army 18 May 2001)

Regimental Flash

A shield-shaped embroidered device with semi-circular base, 2 1/4 inches (5.72cm) in height and 1 7/8 inches (4.76cm) in width overall, edged with a 1/8 inch (.32cm) black border; an inner black border notched scarlet at the horizontal center line, four diagonal lines, upper scarlet, khaki, orange and lower white from upper right to lower left dividing the shield approximately in half. The upper left being green and the lower right being ultramarine blue.

1st Battalion

2d Battalion

3d Battalion

1st Battalion: A shield-shaped embroidered device with semi-circular base, 2 1/4 inches (5.72cm) in height and 1 7/8 inches (4.76cm) in width overall, edged with a 1/8 inch (.32cm) black border; an inner black border notched scarlet at the horizontal center line, four diagonal lines, upper scarlet, khaki, orange and lower white from upper right to lower left dividing the shield approximately in half. The upper left being green and the lower right being ultramarine blue.

2d Battalion: A shield-shaped embroidered device with semi-circular base, 2 1/4 inches (5.72cm) in height and 1 7/8 inches (4.76cm) in width overall, edged with a 1/8 inch (.32cm) black border; an inner black border double notched scarlet at the horizontal center line, four diagonal lines, upper scarlet, khaki, orange and lower white from upper right to lower left dividing the shield approximately in half. The upper left being green and the lower right being ultramarine blue.

3d Battalion: A shield-shaped embroidered device with semi-circular base, 2 1/4 inches (5.72cm) in height and 1 7/8 inches (4.76cm) in width overall, edged with a 1/8 inch (.32cm) black border; an inner black border triple notched scarlet at the horizontal center line, four diagonal lines, upper scarlet, khaki, orange and lower white from upper right to lower left dividing the shield approximately in half. The upper left being green and the lower right being ultramarine blue.