Once reserved as pinnacle uniform item that was exclusively meant to be worn by Special Forces Soldiers, General Shinseki was the general who was responsible for implementing an Army-wide conversion to the black beret. This transition to the black beret as the primary United States' Army garrison headgear was meant, by General Shinseki, to be a glaring symbol of uniformity, camaraderie, and cohesiveness. Several years since its implementation, the Army black beret can be found adorning the heads of tens of thousands of enlisted and officer Soldiers spanning the active duty Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve. While other service branches have their own primary garrison headgear, no other service can claim that they have the black beret.
With a light blue flash, adorned with either a piece of officer rank insignia (for officers) or a DUI (distinguished uniform identifier, for enlisted Soldiers), the wear of this sleek and professional United States' Army uniform item is ultimately subject to the discretion of a unit's commanding officer. Meant primarily to be worn in a low-tempo battle rhythm garrison environment, this piece of Army headgear, according to AR 670-1, would be really quite impractical if it were worn by a unit's Soldiers during a patrolling mission or training exercise. As an alternative piece of headgear, Soldiers transition to the wear of the Army soft patrol cap when in hot and arrid deployment theatres of operation, like Iraq or Afghanistan.
While an initial entry (IET) Soldier, who has just completed basic combat training, will be issued a green Class-A uniform (at the time of this InfoBarrel article writing, the green Class-A uniform is being phased out, and replaced by the Army Dress Blue Uniform), they are not, however, issued a black beret. Unless they have received one from a friend, these Soldiers will have to purchase their own black beret either from a PX Clothing and Sales store on base, or through an online store such as Marlow White, or the Supply Sergeant. Because the transition from basic combat training to advanced individual training is meant to occur fluidly, with little to no access to internet (or means to receive shipments), oftentimes purchasing a beret through an online retailer is just a very difficult possibility. After generally a few weeks of advanced individual training, when they have gained greater privileges, these Soldiers may be able to accept a shipment of a care package, through which a loved one back home can send a beret in which they had purchased from an online channel.
For whichever way a beret is obtained, you must have one in your possession before you can go about wearing it properly. Whether a Soldier will be purchasing their own black beret, or relying on a friend or family remember, it is important that the one you purchase be unlined and wool. With many variations in beret manufacturers, you will also want to ensure that the thin headband be leather, and that there is no seam present that runs from top or crown of the beret to where it would be positioned on the back of your head. Even if you purchase a "pre-shaped" beret, you can still shave and prepare it so that it has the sleek and professional look that you will be ecstatic to show off at graduation and at home.
Flash? or No Flash?
Berets can be purchased with either the light blue flash attached or without it attached. Generally speaking, most online and offline retailers will sell this Army uniform item with the flash already sewn on. If you are shopping online, a picture with the blue flash attached will indicate that it is indeed attached as part of the product displayed. If you have any doubts about whether it is attached, be sure to review the item's comments and/or contact the retailer with your question through email. If your light blue flash is not attached to your black beret, you will have to purchase it separately and sew it on.
When sewing your flash on, be sure to center it in the middle of the cardboard flash support that can actually be felt when your beret is turned inside out. Complementing the wool will be this solid cardboard piece. Your flash will be sewn onto this, and, because of the thickness of officer rank insignia or a distinguished uniform isnignia, the pointed ends of those those items will penetrate into the cardboard flash support.
Arm Yourself with Disposable Razors to Shave It
While shaving and preparing a beret can be a tedious task, it is also a necessary task in order to gain for your beret a sleek and highly professional look. Even if your beret is purchased "pre-shaped", it will still have a substantial amount of bulkiness from the wool that it contains. With an ample amount of disposable razors, you will now proceed to shave your beret. Devising a system, such as shaving the front or around the circumference of your beret's leather headband, can help to ensure that you aren't repeatedly shaving areas that you have shaved already. Doing this can also help you to not wear down one area's wool excessively short, while you completely neglect shaving another area of the beret. Be sure to give your entire beret similar attention, in order to ensure uniformity, when you are shaving it.
As mentioned, doing this can be a very tedious process. With repeated use, you can expect for your disposable razors to cease being effective rather quickly. It is at that time when you will simply use another razor. With many beret shaving horror stories available, do be sure to be gentle with your beret while shaving it. Take notice early on if you are shaving it to harshly, so that you do not wind up with unnecessary and unappealling holes.
Wet and Size the Beret
Once you have effectively endured the tediousness of shaving this Army uniform item, you will now want to wet and size your beret. Wetting it prior to shaving it can cause the unshaven wool to become saturated, while ultimately making your shaving experience a bit of a headache. Do be sure not to wet your beret until after you are reasonably certain that it is shaved well enough. With sizing bands (or ribbons) that protrude from the rear of the beret's leather headband, you can now pull these delicately to a comfortable fit. While sizing, you will want to tie these ribbons into a square knot so that they tuck nicely under the beret. As an alternative to discreetly concealing these sizing ribbons, you may also choose to tie them, cut off the excess ribbon material, and burn the remainder (with a lighter or match) into a hardly noticeable stub. This method is preferred by many servicemembers simply because you will never have to worry about tucking in your beret sizing ribbons again.
Shape the Beret
With your flash held straight over your left eye, you can now proceed to shape your already sized beret. Pull the excess wool material of your beret over the right side of your head. Ideally, the excess wool material should reach at least to the top, or an inch to two inches down your right ear to its middle. As it drapes over your head, the excess material should come close to touching the outside of your right eye.