The idea for the different beret colors for the service branches of the NAC military in my Frontlines novels isn’t unique to my fictional universe, of course. Every military that issues the beret as headgear has a color-coding system for the particular branches and military specialties. In the Frontlines universe, the NAC issues midnight blue berets to the Fleet, green ones to Homeworld Defense, and maroon ones to Spaceborne Infantry.

Maroon is the standard international color for airborne troops. Everyone except Russia issues maroon beanies to their paratroops. (The paratroopers of Russia have inherited the old Soviet Union airborne color, sky blue.) The beret in the picture above was one of my two issued berets when I served in the German Bundeswehr from 1989 to 1993. When it was time to turn in my gear, I turned in one beret and reported the other as lost and paid for it so I could keep it as a service souvenir.

In the Bundeswehr, combat troops wear green (infantry), black (armor), or maroon (airborne) berets. (Sound familiar? I also cribbed the Bundeswehr rank insignia and made up slightly modified versions for the post-reorganization NAC ranks. Authors steal literally everywhere and everything.) Logistics troops and combat support troops, such as artillery or engineers, wear red berets. The medical corps wears dark blue berets. The badge on the beret denotes the particular branch: airborne has a diving eagle, artillery has two crossed cannons, signals has a lightning flash, and so on. The beret I wore has the badge of the Fernspäher branch on it. The eagle stands for airborne capability, the lightning flashes for signals, and the marking flags for the reconnaissance mission.

The beret color still exists, of course, but the badge and its associated branch are no more. The Fernspäher branch was dissolved, and its personnel formed the nucleus of the new KSK (Kommando Spezialkraefte) special operations branch. Two of the three Fernspäher companies in existence were eliminated outright, and the third one was turned into a teaching and demonstration unit for spec ops training. With the loss of their distinct beret badge, the men of the FSLK200 were supposed to wear the new beret badge of the consolidated “Reconnaissance” arm of the army (two crossed marking flags without the eagle or the lightning flashes), but I’ve been told that FSLK200 personnel continued to wear the old Fernspäher badge on their berets in defiance of paper regulations, which is of course exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from troops with a high esprit de corps and a branch history dating back to the beginning of the Cold War.

It’s kind of strange to look at that beret and know that the branch it represents is no more. The barracks where I had my basic training is now a civilian apartment complex. The building where I used to stand in formation every morning for three months in the cold Southern German weather from January to March of 1989 still exists, but it has been renovated and fitted with modern insulation and windows, and it looks very little like the old “A-Building” that had our boot platoon housed on the second floor. That’s when I have to remind myself that the first day of basic training was almost 26 years ago. Things sure have changed in the quarter century since. My four years of service spanned the historic time from the tail end of the Cold War to the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and few four-year stretches have been as eventful. Thankfully, it all happened without any of us having to fire a shot in anger, which is a major privilege in and of itself.

A very small number of the soldiers I served with–my former peers–decided to go Pro and make the military a career. One’s a helicopter pilot who is now a Lieutenant Colonel. The other is a Stabsfeldwebel, which is the second-highest enlisted rank, equivalent to a Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8). I find myself thinking that when I was in uniform, the Lieuteant Colonels and Master Sergeants were old dudes. And then I consider the possibility that I am now an old dude as well. Had I stayed in, I’d have close to 26 years of service time, and I’d be an E-8 or E-9 now. That is one scary-ass thought, and it makes me want to listen to some Britney Swift and do some rap-hop dancing or whatever it is the kids do these days for fun at their sex parties with their hoverpants and their video games.




23 thoughts on “relics.

  1. I still have my maroon beret. My unit was also disbanded. You’re right about seeing the insignia and flash and knowing it’s gone.

  2. A co-worker and I were talking today about our time in the army, and the subject of how old our platoon sergeants and battalion commanders were in the 1980s. We talked about how mature and worldly we were as 19 year old soldiers and how we could not have ever been as young looking and naive as soldiers are today……
    Perception is everything.
    Thanks for your service.

  3. ” I find myself thinking that when I was in uniform, the Lieuteant Colonels and Master Sergeants were old dudes.”

    True conversation, from a bit over five years ago (I was a new Major at the time):
    Me: “You know you’re getting old when you start thinking of Captains as kids.”

    Fellow Major: “Remember when we were Lieutenants, how old the Majors were? Now we are the Majors”

    Me: “…”

  4. I feel pangs of nostalgia every time I see the SAC crest. It’s heart breaking to stand down a unit, more so (at least for me) standing down an entire command.

    • I hear ya. I did half my career in SAC, went overseas not too long before the changeover.

      “Why not Minot?”

      “Freezin’s the reason!”

  5. I’d always get a twinge when MSgt Beasley would be relating a tale from the office and refer to “my young majors”.

    But… majors are old! 😮

  6. I remember when Gen. Shinseki decided that we were all we could be and we needed to become and army of individuals. We infantry folk understood the value in having a special insignia or beret to indicate that you were different (and in some ways insane).

    I didn’t lose a unit, we lost a company. When the army transformed 4 ID into CAB’s my beloved C co stopped being infantry and became armor (stinking DAT’s) and we became the A co of what is one of the most storied armor battalions in the army.

    I think Michael Z Williamson had a good quote in Freehold “There are those who don’t understand military rituals. some ridicule them. I pity for those people.” -Sergeant Mel Buttler, US Army Freehold Ch.11

    Tradition is a powerful thing.

  7. Wait until you get to the point that Colonels were in high school or college and Generals were brand new 2nd Lieutenants at the time you got out.

    And yeah, it is kind of sad knowing most of the bases you lived on and many of the units or commands you were in no longer exist. Talk about not being able to go home again.

    • It was time to retire, when guys who weren’t born when I joined were showing up, but I didn’t listen. Then, the son of a deceased teammate showed up, with a tour as a support guy behind him (and a first-rate reputation with the teams he’d backed), fresh from SFQC and ready to pick up his end of the log. Even I got that message, and I’m almost adjusted to being retired now.

  8. Your service in Bundeswehr sounds like it roughly coincided with mine in the U.S. Army. I never saw combat either, but as a radar repairman for the Vulcan air-defense gun, I never wore a beret of any color—and now ALL Army troops do. (Some of us non-elites did protest the new berets-for-everyone, admittedly weakly, recognizing that that particular item was a symbol of excellence not earned by us.)
    The Vulcans are now long gone from inventory, Air Defense Artillery is no longer at Ft. Bliss, TX, my old unit is long since dissolved, and the berets are in. Oh, and a friend who joined up AFTER I got out is now a LIEUTENANT COLONEL.
    Yeah, I feel old.

    • I served in the US Army in Gelnhausen Germany, in the Carter administration. The barracks were old pre WWII barracks, had been a Wehrmacht Antitank battallion barracks. If you know the old movie 08/15, you know what I mean. The beret as headgear has the advantage of being able to be rolled up and stuck in a sleeve. The old saucer caps rather depended on the presence of hat check girls in the better restaurants.

  9. Having been Navy, three of four squadrons I served in are now gone. I know the feeling… But you have that beret as a memento of your time, and you know you served with pride. No one can ever take THAT away from you.

  10. As a medical washout from ROTC I salute the service of all of you.
    I forwarded my ROTC beret to my cousin who wore it both in college and active duty.
    While working as a computer tech at DIA I ran across an old ROTC mate. She was a LTC and getting ready to retire to “spend more time with the grandchildren.” That was over 10 years ago!!.
    How did this happen?

  11. Two of the three ships I served aboard in the Navy are gone, and the third one is only around because one of her replacements went Tango Uniform. My old Army unit when I was enlisted is also gone, and in fact the equipment we operated (the clunky old LARC XV) was superceded and its replacement (LACV 30) is now also gone. No idea what happened to Ft. Ord, where I went to basic and AIT, except that it fell to BRAC.

    So, yeah… still have a piece of the flight deck of USS Peleliu I snagged during her first shipyard period in 1980, so I am literally a plank owner.

  12. IIRC Back in the 80’s he U.S. Army was thinking about issuing berets to the troops with the colors of their branch. However, certain people pointed out that a bright orange beret for Signal Corps troops, wasn’t a good idea.

  13. Because the Riverine Guys in Vietnam adopted the black beret (see Tom Cutler’s excellent history “Brown Water, Black Berets”) we as one of the few remaining PBR units in the Navy kept them. In later years I “demilled” one of my berets by taking our pin-on flash from it and used to wear it in Europe during the winter. Some SF guys I knew used to deride the beret as impractical, but for cold, wet, foggy (aka Europe a LOT of the time) weather they do have some utility

  14. I know how you feel. The ship I served on was sunk as a target and is now on the bottom of the Atlantic.

  15. I think I’m going to have to read Marko’s books now.

    The Fallschirmjäger eagle, of course, is unchanged from its invention, except for the deletion of a discredited symbol. I’m very proud of my German parachute badge in Bronze, which is a wing not too different from those used worldwide, but with a certain German modern-artistic flavor to it (Bauhaus perhaps?).

    I have way too many old uniforms, and have been cloning my old rifles and carbines, so I may need an intervention.

    • I did indeed start reading Marko’s books, beginning with Terms of Enlistment. Happy so far, have a few beefs but nothing we couldn’t resolve over an adult beverage, and nothing that will stop me from reading the rest.

      I bet he didn’t know this post would bring him new fans. You never know, do you?

  16. My old grade-school sweetheart recently retired from the Air Force as a Bird Colonel. She spent most of it teaching in Colorado Springs…

    when and how the hell did we get so damn OLD?