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When is a Para not a Para?

Understanding the Maroon Beret: Not All Who Wear It Are Paras

Some people don’t realise that just because a soldier wears the legendary maroon beret of the airborne forces it doesn’t actually mean he’s a Para.

The Myth of the Maroon Beret

The maroon beret, often referred to as the ‘Maroon Machine’, is synonymous with the airborne forces in the British Army. However, wearing this iconic headgear does not automatically make a soldier a member of the Parachute Regiment.

Many assume that the maroon beret signifies membership in the Parachute Regiment, but this is a misconception. Any soldier serving in an airborne unit can wear this beret. To truly be recognized as a Para, one must pass the demanding Pre-Parachute Selection Course, known as P Company, which consists of eight grueling tests over seven days.

Earning the Parachutist Badge

Passing P Company is just the beginning. Soldiers must then complete the Basic Parachute Course at RAF Brize Norton to earn their ‘wings’. For combat roles, like those in the Parachute Regiment, six parachute descents from 1,000 feet with full equipment, including one night jump, are required. Non-combat roles may only require four descents, including a night jump. Training conditions have evolved since World War II, where jumps from barrage balloons were mandatory, a practice phased out in the late 1990s.

Not All Airborne Soldiers Are Paras

Even with the maroon beret, P Company pass, and parachutist wings, soldiers from other regiments within airborne units, like the 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, are not considered Paras. These soldiers, although integral to airborne operations, retain their identity within their original regiments, such as the Royal Engineers.

Identifying a True Para

The definitive indicator of a true Para is the Parachute Regiment cap badge. Soldiers who join the Parachute Regiment from the start, complete the Combat Infantryman Course at the Parachute Regiment Depot, or the officer course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, pass P Company, and earn their wings, are true Paras. The cap badge is a badge of honor, representing their journey and commitment.

An Airborne King

King Charles III, the Colonel-In-Chief of the Parachute Regiment since 1977, completed the Basic Parachute Course at 23, earning his maroon beret and wings. Despite this, he did not undertake P Company, which technically excludes him from being a true Para, yet he is honored as an Airborne King.

Cap Badge Evolution

The Parachute Regiment cap badge has seen a slight modification with the transition from the Queen’s Crown to the King’s Crown, reflecting the change in monarchy.

Featured War Story: The Demolition Men of D-Day

For an engaging war story, listen to the first episode of Season 2 of the podcast “Amazing War Stories,” titled “The Demolition Men of D-Day.” It features a team of Parachute Engineers who executed a critical mission to destroy key bridges behind enemy lines on D-Day.

By understanding the distinctions and rigorous qualifications associated with the maroon beret and the Parachute Regiment, one gains a deeper appreciation for the dedication and identity of airborne soldiers in the British Army.

For more fascinating war stories and insights, stay tuned to our blog and podcast series.

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