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.