www.theladders.com /career-advice/why-us-flag-is-worn-backward

Career Insight: Why the US flag is worn backward on Army uniforms

Ladders 5-7 minutes 5/18/2022

If you pay close attention to an Army uniform, you may have noticed something that looked rather odd at first glance. The US flag, located on the arm of the uniform, appears to be displayed backward.

Yes, you’re not seeing things. The US flag is worn backward on Army uniforms – the question is why? We’ll look at the reason behind this seemingly abnormal display and a few other key guidelines regarding how the US flag is worn on uniforms.

A soldier whose face is not in shot stands in uniform before the U.S. flag.
Whichever way you look at it, the U.S. flag leads the way.

The highest position of honor

On the US flag, the blue star field should always be displayed in the highest position of honor.

When viewing a flag displayed horizontally on a wall, the highest position of honor would be on the upper left. This position is what the majority of Americans are most familiar with. Most have seen the flag flying on a pole or hanging on a wall, which is why it is common to associate the blue portion of the flag as being displayed on the upper left of the flag.

However, if the flag is on a person’s uniform, an Army vehicle, or other moving object, the highest position of honor is in the front, not the rear. For this reason, you’ll notice that the field of blue is always positioned to point forward on Army uniforms. This looks at first glance to be a backward display of the flag but is actually a way of ensuring the highest position of honor for the blue field.

A good way to envision this is to think of the flag being flown on the side of military personnel. If you were to move forward with it, the blue field with stars would lead the way. The patch is simply a static representation of the flying flag moving forward with the blue at the highest position of honor — the front.

A sign of courage and commitment

Throughout history, when the flag has been used to lead military personnel into battle, it has always led with the blue field forward. The red and white stripes flowing behind represent courage and commitment.

Even in parades, the blue field must face forward when carrying the US flag.

If the flag were in reverse, it would look as if the flag were retreating. In a military context, it is critical to showcase the bravery and forward march of the flag, which is why the flag is reversed on clothing and vehicles.

Who regulates Army uniform guidelines?

The full regulations regarding Army uniform guidelines can be found in the Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.

Not only does this regulation specify how to wear the flag on Army uniforms, but it encompasses a wide array of guidelines around what Army members may wear, how they may dress, and other appearance-related topics.

Changes to military regulations

In the past, in addition to displaying the US flag in reverse on uniforms, it was also required to be in red, white, and blue. However, recent updates to the military regulations have allowed for the use of a flag patch in camouflage or muted colors. This makes it easier to ensure that uniforms meant to offer camouflage protection in combat are not compromised by the bright colors of the flag.

When the US flag is worn with other flags

If the US flag is displayed with other organizational flags, including those of military branches, it should always be displayed to the right. This indicates the significance of the US flag as the most important.

Additionally, in a procession, the US flag should always take precedence in the order of display. While other flags may be dipped in salute, the US flag should never be dipped.

When the US flag is worn on other uniforms

In addition to military personnel, there are other cases in which a uniform may contain the US flag. For example, firefighters, police officers, and other members of patriotic institutions are allowed to display the US flag on their uniforms. These personnel should adhere to the same guidelines as the Army when displaying the flag as an arm patch. However, the US flag patch is not to be worn on athletic wear or costumes.

Additionally, the US flag, when worn, must be treated with respect and must never be altered, desecrated, or marked up.

Other interesting facts about US Army uniforms

For those who join the Army, there is a lot to learn about the regulations around appearance. In the Army, it is critical for personnel to follow all guidelines.

Other interesting regulations about Army uniforms include the following:

  • Uniforms must fit precisely. They are not to be too tight nor too loose.
  • Uniform jackets and skirts cannot have any creases.
  • Uniform pants and shirts can be pressed and creased.
  • Originally, Army-issued boots were two of the same. There was no right or left foot. However, this design was uncomfortable, which led to the eventual switch to a normal right and left-footed boot.
  • While historically, the Army wore a dark green shade for their Army Service Uniforms, the use of this color ended in 2015. Now, Army Service Uniforms come in Army Blue.
  • According to the US Army, wearing a regulated uniform is an important part of upholding the legacy of those who have served before. They state: “Our uniforms embody professionalism and commitment to Army values – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. The uniform is a symbol of honor and tradition, of esprit de corps and morale, and of personal excellence and pride.”