The Depot

Thin Green Line: What Is It and What Does It Mean?

Image of a green line with black background

In recent years, the meaning of thin lines with distinct colors have taken on special meanings for those in certain professions. We’ve all heard of the thin blue line which originally referred to the U.S. Army. In 1911, Nels Dickmann Anderson wrote a poem titled “The Thin Blue Line,” which spoke about how the thin blue line fought in battle. The blue line was, of course, U.S. Army soldiers who wore blue uniforms through the 1700 and 1800s and the line was the formation they used in battle.

Somewhere along history, many argue around the early 1920s, the term thin blue line started to be adopted by law enforcement. With the increased militarization of American police forces in the 1980s, the thin blue line term gained traction amongst law enforcement members and it took on a whole new meaning and today, most commonly, it refers to the men and women of law enforcement.

The thin line represents law enforcement officers standing in a line as a barrier, like the old military formation, protecting law-abiding society from criminals. The color blue represents the police uniform, which is usually blue, worn by police officers.

pages of a book with a poem about the thin blue line

The thin line movement gained popularity recently in reaction to social movements and in addition to the thin blue line, white, gray, yellow and other colored lines were adopted by many uniformed professions. For example, the thin green line for some represents the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol. But the thin green line can also represent paramedics, EMTs, fish and wildlife officers, park rangers and animal control officers, to name a few.

However, in this post, we are referring to the men and women of the U.S. Army. Although the Army was the original thin blue line, the Army evolved into the thin green line as law enforcement more and more used the thin blue line term as an identifier.

Today, although as noted above, there are some para-law enforcement entities that use the term thin green line, the U.S. Army, for the most part, is referred to as the thin green line. They are the original thin green line and the term took root years ago when the Army began to wear green fatigues and green Class A uniforms.

It should be noted that the U.S. Military Academy had the long grey line which referred to graduates of West Point, and although the term is still used to refer to cadets who wear grey uniforms, the phrase has also been commandeered by civilian uniformed professions.

And the term thin green line seems to be diluting just like the thin blue line did for the U.S. Army. As mentioned above, more and more professions are staking their claim by using the thin green line to identify their professions.

Recently, the thin green line has started to represent not just the U.S. Army, but the U.S. military as a whole. Flags with the thin green line on them represent all military forces in the United States.

Thin green line flags and apparel are worn by individuals who support the U.S. military. A popular item is a subdued U.S. flag with a green stripe in the middle representing support for the U.S. military.