The following is an excerpt from the personal journal of Lt. Gen. William Yarbrough (1912-2013), reprinted by Duffel Blog with permission from the Green Beret Association.
So here it was, June of 1998, and the Pentagon made the decision that they wanted all the Army Special Operations components under one unit umbrella. They had pretty much everything figured out except what to call the new parent command. So Eric [Shinseki], who was about to take over as chief of staff, called me up and asked me for ideas on a name.
Now, during Vietnam, Green Berets would be out doing things in the middle of nowhere, and they’d have absolutely no supplies to speak of.
Guys would be complaining that they had to do their business out there in the jungle but didn’t have anything to wipe with. The team commanders would be constantly telling people “use a sock.” Or when guys would need to take care of themselves, if you know what I mean, but there was no tissue paper handy? “Use a sock.”
Seriously, socks were easier to get than toilet paper. I still don’t know why. Guys within the Special Forces community started saying “use a sock” for literally everything. It got to the point where it almost became an institutional joke motto, sort of like “Wagner loves the cock” for the Marines.
So now here it is, I’d been retired for almost thirty years, when out of the blue I get a phone call from Eric, and he asks me to come up with an idea for a name for this new major command.
Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Use a sock.” It was just an offhand joke. I never meant for him to take it seriously. But he ran with it, and sure enough, a year and a half later, there he is, announcing the formation of USASOC (U.S. Army Special Operations Command).
I never had the heart to tell him. He’d probably be really embarrassed.