Army delays up decision on China beret contract
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon delayed announcing a decision Wednesday about whether to buy Army berets from China as a standoff continued over a downed U.S. spy plane and its crew.
Officials canceled a news briefing that had been scheduled to release the results of a review of the awarding of contracts for the berets.
The U.S. spy plane, with 24 crew members, made an emergency landing on a Chinese island earlier this week after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki decided last year that all soldiers, except paratroopers and Special Forces soldiers, would wear black berets, beginning June 14, the Army’s birthday.
With that deadline set for acquiring 2.6 million berets, the Defense Logistics Agency said it had to use foreign manufacturers along with American suppliers. When word got out that China was among the suppliers, it created a problem among lawmakers who want the Army to buy American; the review began in March.
Though production of the berets continued while the review was under way, the Army could have stopped the purchase if the review found fault with the way the contracts were awarded, officials said.
They said Wednesday’s announcement was intended to state that the process was proper. But officials did not want to announce that while China continued to hold the 24 Americans, and before congressional hearing on the berets that was scheduled for Thursday.
Shinseki, businessmen and others were to testify on the purchasing process before the House Small Business Committee.
For years, only members of elite Ranger commando units have had the right to wear black berets and they objected that widespread use of the headgear would cheapen something they had won through special training.
Shinseki later accepted a Ranger offer to switch from black to tan berets, enabling Rangers to keep an exclusive color.
On the Net: Army beret site: http://www.army.mil/beret/
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