During the American Civil War, soldiers wore colorful corps badges on their caps and blouses to differentiate themselves in the chaos of battle.
By the end of World War I, these simple insignias evolved into more intricate unit patches also known as shoulder sleeve insignias and were worn on the left sleeve to denote membership in a certain Army unit. Insignias on the opposite sleeve, signifying time in a combat zone, began to be donned in the mid-1940s.
In the months of June and July, several unit commanders continued the longstanding tradition of presenting each of their soldiers with shoulder sleeve insignias, denoting wartime service during ceremonies here and at nearby Combat Outpost Lakaray.
“By volunteering to serve in our nation’s Army and deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, you have now earned lifetime membership in this unique clan,” said Lt. Col. Deborah Ellis, the commander of the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion. “I ask every one of you to wear the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade and the 1st Medical Brigade patch on your right shoulder with pride.”
Second Lt. Yvette E. Huston, a personnel officer for the 502nd, mentioned the history associated with combat patches as she spoke to the troops receiving patches.
“The combat patch ceremony is a tradition started by the Army during World War II,” Huston said. “Soldiers who served in a combat zone during a period of active enemy engagement placed their unit patches on their right shoulders to signify their participation.”
Other unit commanders made similar speeches, citing their soldiers’ dedication to duty and selfless service.
“It’s great that command elements see the importance of formally addressing the accomplishments of its soldiers,” said Cpl. Brendan Birch, behavioral health specialist with the 1972nd Medical Detachment here. “I am proud knowing I belong to an organization that takes the time to recognize outstanding accomplishments such as a patch ceremony.”
Units that held combat patch ceremonies included: three companies of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division; Alpha Company and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade; 1972nd Medical Detachment, 1st Medical Brigade; and soldiers with the 27th Joint Border Coordination Center, 82nd Airborne Division.
Proper wear of the shoulder sleeve insignia – former wartime service is outlined in Army Regulation 670-1. To earn this combat patch, a soldier must serve for at least 30 days in a theater of operations declared a combat zone by the Secretary of the Army or a higher official.
“Whenever I see a soldier wearing a SSI-FWTS, I think about the hardships the soldier and his/her family may have endured during that time away,” Birch said. “It makes me proud to be a soldier in the U.S. Army knowing that I have brothers and sisters willing to sacrifice certain luxuries that we fight to ensure generations after us will get to enjoy.”
Story by Staff Sgt. Brendan Mackie