For years, the Army has exhorted its soldiers to be all that they can be — but now it's redefining the "all" with a new look, a new book and a new attitude.

Revamping the modern American soldier from head to tome, the Army is seeking to keep itself ready and relevant in the post-Cold War age. Earlier this week, nine GIs selected from Fort Bragg, N.C., became the first to don the Army's new standard black berets. And on Thursday, the Army released its updated rulebook, which changes the force's focus.

It's all coming together Thursday — which is both Flag Day and the service's 226th anniversary — as the nation's mainstay fighting force undergoes a dress review.

For most of the public, the most visible change will be the soldiers' new lids. Thursday will be the first day that everyone in the Army will wear black berets, meant to promote unity within the service.

Well, not everyone — only about one-third of the 1.3-million strong Army have the new berets, and it's not certain when the other two-thirds will get their caps.

But whether the new chapeaus and other changes will be enough is up for debate. Some say the U.S. military has suffered since the days when the Cold War presented America with a single, recognizable foe.

The services have been struggling with two big problems: how to transform themselves into more mobile forces fit for 21st century situations, and how to hold onto its soldiers and sailors while attracting recruits.

"The experience the young have with the military is very small," said retired Navy Adm. David Jeremiah, who led a defense posture review on morale and quality of life ordered by President George Bush. "It is a leadership problem in that everyone from president on down [has] a responsibility for people who serve, that the work they do is noble work."

At the same time, crumbling infrastructure and closing bases are dulling the luster on the once-brilliant military sheen.

"We have too many bases, too many old structures on them," Jeremiah said. "The impression is the organization is not working hard to give us what we need to do our job."

With fewer young men and women interested in a life in camouflage, the Army brass has even bolstered its recruitment efforts with cash incentives.

Thursday's unveilings highlight the Army's attempts to combat its problems. But the attempts to update the look and uplift the spirit of the military have already received mixed results.

Critics have panned the Army's new slogan, "An Army of One," as more likely to attract an Army of none.

The beret campaign was equally controversial. When the Army announced last year that it had decided to make the black caps standard for all its soldiers, it aroused the ire of the vaunted Rangers, the elite troops who have to go through extremely rigorous training to earn what had been their trademark black berets.

It didn't help matters when it was revealed that some of the berets were being supplied by China, then in the midst of a war of words with the U.S. over a downed Navy plane and a dead Chinese fighter pilot.

Tempers cooled a bit when the Rangers volunteered to switch to tan berets so they could claim an exclusive color.

Yet to be seen is how the rank and file will react to the new Army bible.

For the first time, new manuals in the Army rulebook include lessons learned from recent military events, such as peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Somalia. It's a significant move away from the traditional made-to-wage-war mentality to one more suited to an organization that may be called upon to support civil governments in humanitarian crises.

The new book also emphasizes that the Army is part of a larger team and will work closely with other services to accomplish the nation's goals.

Already in use in Army schools and soon to be sent to training centers, the manuals are to be "studied and understood by all Army leaders," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki said. He said they are "a professional intellectual framework" for how the Army will operate.

Shinseki hopes the beret will be a symbol of this new and improved excellence.

"When we wear the black beret it will say that we, the soldiers of the world's best army, are committed to making ourselves even better," he said.

Respond to the Writer