U.S. Army Gives 'Made-in-China' Berets the Boot

ByABC News

May 2, 2001 -- The U.S. Army has said no to the "Made in China" label as it prepares to outfit its soldiers in nonspecialty units in morale-boosting black berets.

After facing growing criticism from Congress over the controversial contracting of hundreds of thousand black berets to Chinese garment manufacturing firms, the Pentagon has announced that the U.S. Army would recall all the berets made in China and dispose of them as surplus stock.

"The Army Chief of Staff has determined that U.S. troopsshall not wear berets made in China or berets made with Chinese content," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a statement released Tuesday.

The recall was the latest in a series of hiccups over the U.S. Army's plan to outfit its troops with a black beret starting June 14, the Army's 226th birthday.

Citing concerns that U.S. firms would be unable to implement the order of over 2 million berets on time, the Army contracted with a number of garment manufacturing firms overseas to fill some of the order.

Diplomatic Downturn

But the plan ran into trouble with the House Armed Services Committee last week, when the committee voiced concerns that the Army was violating rules to "buy American."

The concerns came on the heels of simmering tensions between China and the United States over the midair collision of a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea on April 1.

The 24-member crew was detained in China for 11 days and the spy plane still stands on Chinese soil.

Following the 11-day spy plane standoff and rising tensions over the Bush administration's decision to sell an arms package to Taiwan last month, theDefense Department's initial decision to let contracts totaling $27 million go to companies in China and elsewhere instead of to American firms was met with strong criticism in Congress.

Although the army's latest announcement ensures the black berets will be all-American now, it is expected to receive a lukewarm response from the elite Army Rangers.

Cool Reception From Rangers

When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki ordered that all Army troops begin wearing black berets to boost morale in October, the Rangers were dismayed to learn they were about to lose exclusive use of their black berets.

But at the Army's annual convention in Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, Shinseki was resolute. "The black beret will become the Army standard," he said. "It will become a symbol of unity, a symbol of Army excellence, a symbol of our values."

After a bitter tussle, the Army later announced that the Rangers would trade their exclusive black berets for a tan equivalent.

Shinseki is scheduled to testify before the House of Representatives Small Business Committee today about the Chinese-made beret issue.

But the Army Times today reported the reception from the Ranger community to the latest announcement has been noticeably cool. "Until something official comes down in writing that everybody is going to be wearing a black beret, we are just going to wait and see," said Capt. Todd Bearden, a spokesman for the 75th Ranger Regiment.

ABCNEWS' Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.

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