Military patches in the American military date back to the Revolutionary War when George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit, originally a patch that would go on to become the Purple Heart. However, since less than a handful of men earned the Badge of Military Merit, the use of patches on U.S. uniforms would not firmly take grasp until the Civil War.
The use of patches continued in the American military gaining strong use in the Civil War, but in World War II, the military patches meaning began to shift. Division patches, ranks and qualifications were military patches meaning to show information about a soldier without really communicating. Military leaders on a battlefield could find the right person for the right job just by looking at patches.
The military patches meaning since then has changed significantly. These days patches are worn not only to show a person’s rank, unit, and special qualifications, but also branch of service and military occupation.
There are other military patches meaning to represent participation in a special event, like a Far East Navy cruise or attendance in an exercise. These are often akin to esprit de corps patches, used only for a limited time and in a limited context. They are rarely extended in use and never become a part of the permanent uniform.
There are some military patches meaning something not so easily discernible, for example, many U.S. Army unit patches simply have symbols on them with no words. To some, they might appear as a rainbow or as an eagle head. But to members of that particular Army unit, the person is identifiable by the patch as one of their own.
U.S. Flag Patch
After 9-11, there were military patches meaning clearly that the forces wearing the U.S. flag patch were unapologetically American. It was almost as if the U.S. military wanted everyone to know the American military presence in places that gave safe harbor to terrorists.
Ordinarily prior to 9-11, most American military personnel were known because of a tape patch that had the initials “U.S.” in front of Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.
Patches on Sleeves
Patches that look like dashes on sleeves are military patches meaning that a person has served overseas. In some branches, braids around the cuffs are military patches meaning that a person holds a particular officer rank.
Tabs, small patches worn on a soldier’s sleeve near their shoulders are military patches meaning that the person wearing the patch has completed Ranger school, Special Forces training or is Airborne. In recent years, other tabs have been added that are military patches meaning that the person wearing it has completed Sapper training or is part of an Advisor unit.
Military patches communicate various things. There are quite literally thousands of them and it is best to likely try to learn the patches of your branch first.