The Black Beret,
Tanker's Jackets and Gunnery Qualification Patches: Scouts Out ...
On 14 June, 2001, the Army adopted as a standard headgear item, the
distinctive black beret. Airborne and Special Forces units retained
respectively, their traditional maroon and green berets. The
patrolling cap remained the standard headgear with the BDU uniform,
the beret would be worn with almost all other uniform combinations
and with the BDU at command desecration. At Fort Irwin, members of
the Eaglehorse Squadron were reunited with the black beret, they had
last parted company in late 1978.
Slideshow - click
on the icon below
to view the
The camouflage Battle Dress Uniform was adopted as the standard
field uniform in 1981. Finally a functional and comfortable field
uniform! In the early 1990s, the Army adopted the Nomex tanker
jacket and coverall system for armored vehicle crewmen as part of
the on going effort to engineer safety and functionality into all
aspects of apparel and personal equipment. In 1980, the Blackhorse
had a plan for Nomex uniforms for tankers. At least for one month on
the border in 1978, camouflage fatigues and the berets made a brief
reappearance. An elite Blackhorse platoon had first worn that
combination in Vietnam.
If you were in the Eaglehorse from 1973 to 1978, about all you can
say on the uniform issue is "been there .... done that!". If you
were in a very select group of Blackhorse troopers in Vietnam, about
all you could say is. "did it first, did it best!". Here in three
parts is the back story of the border cavalry and black berets,
tanker jackets and gunnery patches.
BG (Ret) Mike O'Connell:
"I took command of my brigade at Fort Hood in 1975; I recall at that
post, seeing some of the most unusual and colorful uniform
combinations the Army ever allowed. The air cavalry guys were
wearing US cavalry Stetson hats right out of the John Wayne movies.
A lot of other troopers were wearing berets color matched to the
traditional colors of their branch, blue - infantry, red - field
artillery and so on. Then, there were guys wearing those plastic
colored baseball caps that were popular back then; saw that on the
aviation flight line and hangers. Some soldiers were wearing the
1860 brass 'US' cavalry belt buckle plus tanker jackets and tanker
boots. There also was some sort of fatigue uniform just for females
... that no one could figure out how to wear. All this goes back to
that Volunteer Army, VOLAR, program that came on board after the
"At the major command level, commanders were allowed an amazing
amount of latitude on those uniform matters, it was all to increase
troop morale and unit identification. We left all that crap in the
wall lockers when we went to the field, which was fine with me but I
do recall when the black berets were just for the border cavalry.
When I was the SCO at Bad Kissingen, we started wearing them in
1973, I thought they looked great and were very distinctive."
Fort Carson Office of Public Affairs:
"The tradition of wearing black berets began with armored units. In
1924 the British Royal Tank Regiment adopted the first modern
military beret, based on the Scottish highland bonnet and French
Bretonne beret. The regiment selected the headgear for its
practicality: brim less for use with armored vehicle fire control
sights and black to hide grease stains. In the US 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."
The tradition of the black beret and armored forces certainly goes
back to Europe and the British Royal Tank Regiment but there is more
to the story. The black beret, as an oversized headgear was worn by
the German Panzer forces from approximately 1935 until early 1940.
The uniform sets were all black, a field uniform and a dress uniform
were provided, the color was to reinforce the distinctive Úlan of
the "new" Panzer corps as well as hide the expected dirt. The beret
was oversized to allow a leather shell to be worn underneath when in
the field. Interestingly, after the fighting in Poland, the German
military discarded the black beret in favor of functional soft caps
with cold weather ear flaps and visor for the balance of the war.
When the Bundeswehr was rebuilt in 1956, the black berets came back
minus the leather shells.
The British Royal Tank Regiment wore the distinctive black beret on
formal occasions; in the field, a wide variety of soft caps is seen
in the photographic evidence. On the Russian side of things, berets
can be seen during WW II, black uniforms and berets were adopted by
armor forces in the 1950s and many of the Warsaw Pact nations
followed suit. The Blackhorse takes the story down another trail.
Jack Stoddard: .
"I was there with the Aero Rifle Platoon and so were a select group
of guys I am honored to have known and call my friends. Here is
their story and the story of first black berets in the Blackhorse
"The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was one of the most feared combat
units in Vietnam. I don't think there was a VC (Viet Cong) or NVA
(North Vietnamese Army) soldier who didn't fear and hate the enemy
who wore the Blackhorse patch on their shoulder. I'm not saying that
just because I served with the unit, I served in other units as
well, but rather because it was the truth."
"First into battle was the ARPs (Aero Rifle Platoon) of the Air
Cavalry Troop. It was their job to locate the enemy. After they
located them, next would come rest of the Blackhorse troop: the tank
companies, ACAVs (armored cavalry assault vehicles) filled with
troops and finally the artillery batteries. The regiment would pile
on the enemy and literally force them back into their holes deep
within the jungle floor. Besides being first in, the other mission
was to protect, rescue and recover their downed pilots. Being a
member of the ARPs was a very demanding job. There were good
missions and bad missions and sometimes they never wanted to go back
out again, but they did because they loved and respected their
fellow ARPs more than life itself."
"It was monsoon season in late 1968 when I first saw a soldier
wearing a black beret in the Blackhorse base camp at Xuan Loc. I had
been doing maintenance on my tank all day in knee high mud. No
matter how hard you tried, that darn red mud was everywhere. After a
while, we just gave up on trying to keep anything clean and only
worried about changing road wheels and putting new tracks on our
tanks. After a day of this routine maintenance, a high school buddy
of mine from California, Kenny Orton, came by my hooch and suggested
we get something to eat at the 'Steak House.' It was there that we
first met members of the Aero Rifle platoon. After a few minutes of
talking with those guys, I knew I wanted to join up."
"The ARPs, as it turned out, was short for Aero Rifle Platoon, an
all-volunteer special infantry unit of the Air Cavalry Troop. It had
been recently formed by the commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry
Regiment, Col. George S. Patton III, to replaced the former LRPs
(Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon). Col. Patton was a West Point
graduate and tanker just like his father, the renowned World War II
general. He wanted to change the fighting tactics of the regiment
and believed a larger, elite group to was necessary to accomplish
"The sergeant told us the outfit was comprised entirely from
soldiers within the regiment and that it didn't matter what your job
was because you'd be retrained. The ARPs were comprised of
twenty-eight men plus a platoon sergeant and a platoon leader. This
young kid sitting next to me was Staff Sergeant Rollie Port, the
platoon sergeant. I was told the mission of the ARPs was twofold.
One mission was to go into suspected hostile areas and make contact
with the enemy. If they were found, the regiment would then send in
ACAVs and M48 tanks to overrun and defeat them. Their second mission
was to find and recover our downed pilots."
"During the long walk back to our own area, and with the beer doing
most of the talking, Kenny and I decided we wanted to join the ARPs.
First thing the next morning, hang over and all, I walked into the
orderly room and, with only a slight hesitation, requested a
transfer to the ARPs. Two weeks later I found myself standing in the
Air Cavalry Troop orderly room with my duffel bag in tow. Kenny
wasn't there, though, because his commander had turned down his
request. I think it broke his heart as he really wanted to be there
with me. There were four of us new guys and Frank Saracino, who was
from Colorado, was assigned as my roommate.
At six the next morning we started on the first leg of our journey
to becoming ARPs. We were taken to a small section of jungle within
the base camp and for the next few days, were trained in the
intricate infantry tactics of jungle warfare. Being an ARP meant
being a team player. We knew what was expected of us and learned the
risks and the rewards. Our morale was always very high and I loved
"Each member of the four, seven-man squads, had to learn every job
within their squad from walking point to carrying the radio to
bringing up the rear. We had to learn how to call in artillery and
air strikes and a thousand other things! Each man was a part of the
Our uniforms were also different from the rest of the regiment. We
wore the same AK vests as our enemy. They were made of canvas,
wrapped around our chests and carried our thirty-round magazines in
the front three pouches. There was also room for our cleaning rods,
first-aid packet and grenades. It was lightweight and provided us
with a little extra protection up front. At first, our headgear was
normally a jungle hat or the signature beret, but later on they made
us wear our steel pots or at least we were told to carry them with
us. We didn't like wearing those. Even though we knew they protected
us better, they were just too cumbersome. I loved being an ARP and
was proud to wear that black beret!"
"The day I stood in formation and was presented with it was the
proudest day of my entire Army career. It even surpassed the day,
some fourteen years later, when I was promoted to Chief Warrant
Officer. However, holding that beret in my hand did not make me an
ARP. There was a price to be paid for that honor. Would I be able to
do that? Would I truly become an ARP and at what cost? You can
decide if the price was too high as you read the next few stories.
Don't get me wrong, I was scared as hell many times while doing the
is job, but I still wouldn't have traded it for the world. It was
awesome serving with an all-volunteer unit. We were exceptional at
our job, had a lot of pride and showed it. We were respected by all
who knew us and by other units who just knew of us."
"It took a certain type of man to be an ARP. It took a dedicated
professional soldier who had to be just a bit crazy and knew it. At
least that was the consensus of opinion among the majority of the
troopers within the regiment. It was always the same comment, "If we
get into a fire fight,
so be it. But you guys go out there everyday looking for it! You
ARPs must be crazy! I'd never do that!"
"That is the reason why only thirty men out of entire 11th Armored
Cavalry Regiment had the honor of wearing the black beret."
The black berets were reborn in USAREUR in 1973 initially only for
the 11th ACR and the 2nd ACR but in short order, many other non
border divisional cavalry units had also adopted them. The
photographic evidence indicates that they were often found in the
field and on ranges, in 1978 at least with the Eaglehorse, this was
a habit that we all worked to change.
My beret was modern era German Panzer troop stock, courtesy of my
Platoon Sergeant. He frowned on the PX version that never seemed to
fit quite right and passed the lower profile German version on to
me. I have it to this day.
In 1978, Army Chief of Staff General Bernard W. Rogers acted to
eliminate the creeping lack of clothing uniformity in the Army and
berets as well as all other locally authorized non standard uniform
combinations were prohibited. In Bad Kissingen, with the switch to
the Winter Field uniform in December, the berets were hung up for
the next 23 years. There was a rumor going around Daley Barracks as
that date drew near, a group of troopers intended to bury their
berets by the flag pole on the last night of authorized use. It
would be a simple statement, they were the cav, the berets were the
cav, a part of the Eaglehorse would remain forever at Daley
Of note, the New York Times weighed in on the issue with an
editorial piece titled Costumes and Curtain Calls, December 19,
1978. The portion specific to the Army's uniform decision,
"The Army's decision to ban distinctive headgear for soldiers, other
than Green Berets and a few Ranger units marches backward towards a
drab past. 'Modern Army Green' is assuredly better than the truly
drab color olive drab that prevailed before 1958 but it's nothing to
brad about. It's glamorous only when decorated with, say, four rows
of decorations, a colonel's eagles, the insignia of the Joint Chiefs
and perhaps a swirl of gold braid at the epaulets. But what about
the poor specialist fourth class whose service barely extends beyond
Kansas and who has earned no decorations more distinguished than
"Times were when a smartly polished Sam Browne belt and high riding
boots told the world: cavalry. A light gray jacket with blue hat and
trousers signified a medical doctor. A splash of red and gold said
Artillery. In this dyad of computers, all distinctiveness seems
gone. Every auto from Detroit seems indistinguishable. Why must
every soldiers follow suit?"
The photos of the German redevelopment of the area by the flag pole
show the ground was much scrapped and dug, the hide position must
have been deep if the berets were to remain undisturbed. It's a nice
thought to hold, however, that where young American soldiers filled
with pride interned their distinctive black berets during the Cold
War as a mark of who they were and what their cherished symbol was,
the modern, unified and peaceful German economy that the office park
at Manteuffel Kaserne represents, finally came to bloom.
The waist cut medium weight jacket familiar to troopers from World
War II until the uniform standardization of 1979 has an interesting
story. As with a few other items of military apparel, it continued
to exist just beneath the official radar long after it lost its
National Stock Number.
How can anything this convenient NOT be allowed in the duffel?
The jacket in this pattern we recall, dates back to World War II and
was an official item in several different cloth colors and designs.
Tan jackets with patch pockets found their way into the Air Force in
both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters. The green cloth jacket,
with either a standard collar or knit - elastic collar, known as the
M44 Winter Combat Jacket, appears in late 1943 and was issued with a
winter weight coverall set to tank crews. The jacket was deemed to
be clearly superior to the M1941 Field Jacket in wide issue and
troops scooped up tanker jackets as fast as they could. The zipper
was more convenient than the buttons of the M1941 and the shorter
length was an improvement over the longer M1941 for anyone sitting
or crouching. After the war, stocks were probably issued until
exhausted but no new jackets appear to have been brought into the
inventory. The jacket of similar short design, the M1944
"Eisenhower" jacket existed in inventory into the early 1950s but
gradually, the M1943 Field Jacket, the forerunner of the longer,
four pocket design that still exists today, became the only
authorized medium weight field jacket. Having said all this, good
ideas die hard.
MSG (ret) Scott Ford:
"I started my career with the cavalry in Fulda with Recon Company
'C' in 1958. I was just a new private but I'll tell you, there was a
wonderful variation of uniforms out there. I saw plenty of tanker
jackets, I think they were locally authorized and you could buy them
down town or have a tailor make one up. Back then, almost every
company had one guy who had some skills with the needle and thread
and would do all the uniform work for the squads at a fair price.
Every trooper had at least one fully tailored set of fatigues for
guard duty or an informal board. Our khaki and dress uniforms had
similar work. For guard mount, there were high gloss helmet liners
and yellow laces run through spit shined boots. The 14th Cav patch
was worn on the front breast of the field jacket."
The photo evidence doesn't show that many tanker jackets in use in
the 1950s and 1960s. It may have been that as commanders came and
went, what was "allowed" for field and motor pool wear varied in
theaters and major commands. The good idea, however, never quite
LTC (Ret) Burnis G. Allardyce:
"I was with the 3/14 ACR and then Regiment at the time of the reflag
and I distinctly recall the tanker jackets. They came in several
different flavors - but all in the same OD colored material - you
gave the local on post tailor the following items:
- A shelter half (or was it two?)
- Several army wool scarf's
- An army wool blanket or two
From this he tailored the tanker's jacket to fit you. Most came down
to the waist, and around the bottom and around the hands - the wool
scarf material was fashioned for a close fit with elastic material
inside (also around the neck). The shelter half was used to make the
outside, and the wool blanket was used to make the liner. Epauletes
were also added to the shoulders for your rank, unit crest and
command tabs. There were no issues or directives that I recall in
wearing the tanker's jackets, as opposed to the field jackets. Both
were worn and you would see both in any winter formation."
LTC ( Ret ) Robert Snedden:
"Tanker jackets were prevalent when I got to 1st Squadron in 1975. I
never thought about it ... but I didn't see as many in the lettered
troops as I did in the tank co's. Almost every Lt. everywhere wore
one but they weren't as common with the NCOs in the cav troops.
Virtually everyone in the tank company had one."
"Tanker jackets were not issued so you had to buy your own. I can't
remember any rules other than they had to look military and you had
to have the standard stuff (US Army, name, rank, unit insignia).
Some had epaulets, some didn't. Some had a sleeve pocket, some
"I was on the regimental staff (S3 shop) between 1st and 2nd
Squadron assignments. The S3 at that time ordered his tanker jacket
from Eddie Bauer. The jackets came from all over, maybe even Sears!"
LTC (Ret) Larry Martin:
"As I recall, the Armor Center had an exception to the uniform
policy for cav guys. We could wear the beret, jacket and belt. I
still remember that they would not let us wear it in Basic Course
but we could in Motor Officer Course if we were on orders to a cav
unit. I took crap from a couple of 1LTs because I had never been to
a unit yet when I first donned by cavalry regalia. I also recall
that tankers could wear the jacket depending on unit policy."
"I also remember how pissed off I was when we took them off. I
thought the beret and tanker's jackets were way cool. We went to
Graf for Level 1 gunnery in Jan '79, our field uniform was OG
shirts, field pants and pile caps. I remember that it was bitterly
cold. Lots of snow on the ground and it was the only time I ever
wore all my winter gear, liners, mittens and all (not Mickey Mouse
"Everyone in the squadron could wear them however, typically only
senior NCOs and officers wore them in the line troops. Most of the
officers and some senior NCOs wore the tanker's jackets in E Troop.
Some staff officers wore them and I don't recall anyone in How
Battery wearing them. I recall seeing them to a lesser extent in
"Of course, the style came back when Nomex tankers uniforms were
issued in the late 80s. The fire retardent suit consists of a pair
of coveralls, jacket and balaclava or fire retardent hood (as I
recall). The Nomex jacket is a smaller version of the tankers
jacket. When tankers go to the field now, they wear Nomex."
"In my platoon, many but not all of the NCOs had them, they were
also common among the junior EMs if they had been in the squadron
for a while. I believe it took $20, an OD blanket and about a week
for the Daley Barracks tailor shop to make one up. SSG Drex Stephans
called them 'one tour jackets' because they were ready to fall apart
after about three years of wear. Needless to say, he did not have
one; my Platoon Sergeant, SFC Terry Sperry , on the other hand,
viewed his jacket as the best souvenir he had from Germany and never
let it out of his sight."
"For formal ceremonies, Company level change of command or Squadron
Awards Ceremonies, I can vividly recall hearing the First Sergeant
patiently explain the policy to the troops, 'You's have to
understand ... I don't wanna see NONE of THEM jackets on NOBODY!
EVERYONE in a field jacket!! Which of YOU'S is having TROUBLE
underSTANDING?? SGT Stecdorn DO YOU understand ... and HEY ... you
tell your friend SGT Moncotta!!??? '".
"Larry Martin mentions the Nomex uniform that came along in the
1980s, another welcome change. As I recall, in 1980 or so, Regiment
had identified a huge stock of two piece Nomex aviator uniforms in
USAREUR and had either already procured them or was actively
considering it. The idea was that in the event of war, the tankers
and scout drivers would use them. Perhaps in light of General
Rogers' directives, the idea was not spoken of publicly."
Tank Gunnery Qualification Patches
If you have your beret and your tanker jacket, all you really need
to complete the "look" is the over sized qualification patches that
were also common in that era. It was just a matter of sewing it on,
and by the way, you had to qualify your tank at Grafenwoehr first.
Lets get out of the debriefing tent, ground guide the tank back to
the "ready area" and make sure the Range NCOIC got the bumper number
and crew list correct so we can get our patch and maybe even a hot
LTC (Ret) Allardyce:
"My crew (our tank was an M60A-1, # M-21) and I received a 14th ACR
Tank Gunnery Qualification (TCQC) patch and "Order of the Spur"
certificate in the fall of 1970 for qualifying our tank as "Combat
Ready". This was when M Troop, 3rd Sqdn, 14th ACR went to
Grafenwoehr alone, as the rest of the squadron would go about 7 - 8
months later when they were issued the M551s."
"The 14th ACR Tank Gunnery Qualification patch was triangular in
shape, with the point to the top. It was basically white in color,
with a red trim around the edge. It had a red color horse shoe near
the top center with '14' in the middle (also in red). I believe that
it was a regimental patch, as opposed to a squadron patch, because
the patch simply had '14' in the horseshoe, not 3/14 and also,
because the 'Order of the Spur' that all our tank troop qualifiers
received was from the 3/14th ACR - so that was the 3rd Squadron CO's
part of the recognition. I never saw a subdued version of this
patch. The patch also had in bold red letters along the bottom 'TCQC'.
Additionally, there was a bar that could be sewed along the bottom
which simply said 'Distinguished' for those tanks that qualified as
'Combat Ready - Distinguished'."
"Before I left the regiment, I seem to remember that the squadrons
were beginning to issue their own TCQC patches; ie with 1/11, 2/11
or 3/11 ACR on them. These patches were subdued and of a different
shape - basically a rectangle on its side, with a half round top in
the middle portion of the rectangle. Also they featured crossed
sabers and the "Distinguished" bar remained below for those who
qualified at this level. This style of patch carried on for many
years, and may still be in use today. The NG armored cavalry
regiments in the mid 70's to late 80's were wearing them, if memory
serves me right."
In the years that followed, patches were created to honor Scout
Crew, Howitzer Battery, Cobra helicopter and Redeye qualifications
as well as Level I Gunnery Qualification Support patches for all the
mechanics, ammo handlers, medics and cooks who played the essential
side role at GTA.
Major non verbal bragging rights went to those troopers who wore the
central qualification patch with added rockers and bars indicating
several successful trips to Graf. SFC Sperry's array seemed to
stretch from the elastic waist band to his shoulder. Several other
NCOs in the Eaglehorse had similar displays.
Gunnery patches of every variation were seen armor branch wide in
the 1970s, it appears as though this tradition also died with the
Standardization Policy of 1979.