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Shinseki Tapped To Lead VA

All Posts  December 06 2008
 — By CJ Grisham

Former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki – and the man responsible for the horrid beret – has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to become the next head of the Veterans Administration and will be introduced formally tomorrow. I think this is a fairly wise decision on Obama’s part and one that I luke-warmly approve of.

I say this because I can’t get past the ignorance in deciding to switch from the old “soft caps” of old to the current black berets. Not only did we rip a rich heritage and tradition from our Rangers, but we have left Soldiers more exposed to the elements. The number of troops suffering from melanoma and skin cancer in the military has risen steadily over the past six years since the uniform policy was implemented. Not only did we waste millions upon millions of dollars outfitting every Soldier with at least two berets, but the costs of that disastrous decision are still being counted in the clinics and VA centers across the country.
army black beret
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are about a million new U.S. cases of skin cancer — including nearly 60,000 new cases of melanoma, the most deadly form — that will be diagnosed this year. Sun damage is responsible for more than 90 percent of those, too.

Many of these victims will be former or current military members, whose years of exposure in some of the world’s harshest environments put them in particular danger of developing skin cancer down the road. And why is that? Because we have no protection for our faces. The beret provides absolutely NO shade from the harmful UVA and UVB rays of the sun.

But, God protect from hawkish Garrison Sergeants Major who make it a full time career to skulk military installations in search of the guy actually trying to protect his skin by wearing a soft cap on a hot, sunny day in which UV risks are high. Not long ago, we got a new post Command Sergeant Major where I was stationed. As a First Sergeant, I made an appointment to meet with him and introduce myself. As I normally do, I rode my motorcycle in to work that day. On the way in, my beret fell from my pant leg pocket. When I got to work and noticed it was missing I attempted to find it with no success. My replacement beret was back at home.

army patrol capNot wanting to miss my appointment, I donned my soft cap and proceeded to meet with the CSM. I didn’t like it since I don’t want to be seen by junior Soldiers without my beret on, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal since I’d only be wearing it from my office to my motorcycle and my motorcycle to the HQ building. When I sat down to meet with the CSM his eyes made a b-line to my hat and the inquisition began. Where was my beret? Why didn’t I wear my other one if my normal one was lost? What kind of example are you setting? etc.

Last year, prior to leaving the D.C. area, I had an appointment at Bethesda to get some pre-cancerous skin cells removed from my face. I now have to be seen yearly by a dermatologist to ensure that I develop the cancer itself. I have literally worn the black beret for practically all 14 years of my regular Army life. It just so happened that when I was PCSing to a normal unit where I would get to wear the soft cap, General Shinseki had decided on adopting the black beret for the entire force because “our heavy forces are too heavy, and our light forces lack staying power,” whatever that means. I’m not sure how the beret lightened the load for our heavy forces or gave our light forces “staying power” but I guess it doesn’t matter any more.

In announcing the wearing of the beret back in 2000, General Shinseki concluded:

To symbolize The Army’s commitment to transforming itself into the Objective Force, The Army will adopt the black beret for wear Army-wide. It is not about increasing recruiting; we achieved our recruiting target of 180,000 recruits last year–without a beret. It is not about retention; for the second year in a row, we exceeded our reenlistment goal by a wide margin–without a beret. It is not about morale; Soldiers are ready today to go into harm’s way. It is about our excellence as Soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an institution.

I guess when he noted that Soldier were ready to go into harm’s way, he was referring to the sun!!

Oh yeah, congratulations General Shinseki! Now I know what you were doing in the halls of Congress earlier this year when we met briefly. Everything else aside, this really is a GOOD thing for Veterans. I also urge you all that as you begin to read the media accounts of this decision that you go back and actually check the record. Already, the media has been claiming that there was a “clash” between Shinseki and the Bush administration. In Shinseki’s OWN words, he did not even want to answer the troop strength question. And even when he did, he was STILL WRONG on troop numbers!! Only when pressured by Sen. Levin did Shinseki, who isn’t in charge of combatant troop strength, answer the questions. The surge resulted in a mere push of 20,000 troops into Iraq for a grand total of 170,000 troops. We went in in 2003 with 130,000!! During the 2005 elections we had 160,000!! Shinseki was wrong!!!

(7) Readers Comments

  1. Who knew about Military and Melanoma! If it’s of any reassurance, like John McCain, I’ve had two melanomas and still going strong (Just as he will be in four years). Wonder why the statistics you cite don’t influence some CHANGE. Grrrrrr

  2. I had no clue either that the berets were the cause of melanomas. Do you think it’s because the berets look better that he changed from the soft caps?! That’s no reason to risk people’s health however.

  3. I never understood the idea of moving over to the beret. Having served at Fort Bragg, I wonder if the Rangers get confused.
    Anyway, glad to hear a soldier in charge of the VA. They deserve the best.
    NY-David

  4. So you were in a “black beret for practically all 14 years of my regular Army life”…and yet you try and link Shinseki’s decision about the going to the beret to your skin cancer…..

    Sad, sad, sad.

    Shinseki is a great choice to head the VA, he makes well thought out decisions. I guarantee you the beret choice wasn’t made in a vacuum.

  5. Hey, OEF veteran, allow me to clarify. Yes, I wore the beret for over 14 years, but when we went to the field, or the desert, or the motor pool, or whatever, I was permitted to wear the soft cap (or patrol cap). Since the brilliancy of the decision to switch to the beret as the Army-wide cover of choice, that option only exists in most places when you deploy (but you are still required to bring your beret).

    Let me also clarify for everyone else that I am concluding that berets are a contributing factor to cases of melanoma, not THE reason. Please don’t misunderstand me. I have no studies that prove my hypothesis.

    • Would you please contact me, I am needing more documentation on the beret and skin cancer connection, thanks

  6. Just another thought, the army acually ordered thousands of berets from China when this all came into being and at the time I was furious! I sent out an email in dusgust and stated that China is still our enemy and if we went to war with North Korea you better believe that China would back them with troops, now I know we would lose some soldiers in this conflict however we would have to call China and order some new berets for the replacements. I think others were @#%$ also and voiced there opinions because the order was cancelled.

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