The idea is essentially still being floated at this point, but it could be a recruiting boon for the PSYOP career field, which is tasked with influencing the emotions and behaviors of people through products like leaflets, loudspeakers and, increasingly, social media.
“In a move to more closely link Army Special Operations Forces, the PSYOP Proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is exploring the idea of a distinctive uniform item, like a grey beret, to those Soldiers who graduate the Psychological Operations Qualification Course,” Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a USASOC spokesman, said in an emailed statement to Army Times.
“The PSYOP proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is still studying the issue and has not made any recommendation to the Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, concerning awarding of a beret,” Bymer added.
The potential headgear was teased in a recent Facebook post by 1st Special Warfare Training Group’s 5th Battalion. The unit trains and educates enlisted soldiers and officers in PSYOP missions, which used to be referred to as military information support operations, or MISO, prior to a name change in 2017.
The battalion explained in a comment under the post that it posted a blurred picture of a grey beret resting on grass with a UH-60 Black Hawk landing in the background “to generate discussion on the idea.”
“The recommended DUI [distinctive unit insignia] does not have a unit affiliation, rather an education requirement,” Bymer said. “If approved, all students completing the optimized ARSOF PSYOP Qualification Course, which will include a SOF PSYOP module, would earn the SOF PSYOP Additional Skill Identifier.”
The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center began rolling out changes this September for soldiers undergoing its Special Forces, civil affairs and PSYOP training programs.
The new course structure allows for the three career fields’ trainees to interact throughout training, which is how Army special operations works in the competition and conflict phases outlined in an Army Special Operations Command strategy released in mid-October.
If the uniform changes are approved, the “proponent is considering grandfathering in PSYOP-qualified soldiers who are already serving in SOF PSYOP units,” Bymer said.
PSYOP special operations has higher requirements than the conventional counterpart, including an assessment and selection, airborne status, increased task skills, increased physical fitness requirements and language training.
As it stands in the Army, Special Forces soldiers wear Green Berets; Rangers are authorized the wear of a tan beret; paratroopers are assigned the maroon beret and the rest of the Army wears the black beret while in dress uniform.
The brown beret was also authorized in 2018 for soldiers of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades.
The PSYOP mission is one that has received increased attention in recent years, as the Pentagon looks to compete against peer adversaries like Russia and China without resorting to armed conflict.
“We need to move beyond our 20th century approach to messaging and start looking at influence as an integral aspect of modern irregular warfare,” Andrew Knaggs, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, said at a defense industry symposium in February.
Army Special Operations Command appears to take seriously the role that influencing plays in great power competition.
The organization’s new strategy emphasized, among other things, the need to incorporate “cyber and information warfare in all aspects of training" and to “better understand the information environment and weaponize information.”
And the commander of Army Special Operations Command told Army Times in October that his civil affairs and PSYOP soldiers have “gotten a lot more sets and reps" during their operations against the Islamic State in Syria.