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The Black Beret, Tanker's Jackets and Gunnery Qualification Patches: Scouts Out ... Fashion Forward


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.

 

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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.

Black Berets

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 draft ended."

"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 Regiment."

"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 this."

"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 the training."

"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 whole.

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 Barracks.

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 brass buttons?"

"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.

Tanker's Jackets

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 died out.

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 didn't."

"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 boots)."

"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 tank units."
"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."

Bob Stefanowicz:

"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 shower!

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.

 
 


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