Why the U.S. Flag Is Worn Backward on Army Uniforms
U.S. Military uniforms feature the U.S. flag, which is worn backward. People often ask why the flag is reversed when worn as a patch on a uniform. Not all U.S. flag patches are reversed — only those worn on the right shoulder. The reason has to do with long-running traditions and regulations created before the Civil War. The rule is that the blue field of stars should always be in the highest position of honor on the uniform.
That position has always been the right shoulder with the flag's blue stars facing forward.
The History of Flags 'On The Right'
The Place of Honor for the American Flag is always to the RIGHT of other organizational flags like the USMC or Navy flag. When carried with an organization flag as in the March of the Colors, the U.S. flag is carried to the right of the line of march. The organizational flag may be dipped in salute to the reviewing officer at a parade or during the National Anthem, the American flag is never dipped in salute.
How Flags Are Worn on Army Uniforms
Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, is the governing authority for how Army uniforms are worn. Specifically, paragraph 28-18 governs the wear of the United States Flag on Army Uniforms.
Specifically, the regulation states that: "All Soldiers will wear the full-color U.S. flag embroidered insignia on utility and organizational uniforms unless deployed or in a field environment.
Soldiers will wear the subdued tactical flag insignia while deployed or in a field environment." The subdued tactical flag worn on deployments or in the field features muted colors.
The Official Reason for the Backwards American Flag
Basically, the idea behind the backward American flag on Army uniforms is to make it look as though the flag is flying in the breeze as the person wearing it moves forward.
The rule dates back to the Army's early history when both mounted cavalry and infantry units would designate a standard bearer, who carried the flag into battle. As this standard bearer charged, his forward momentum caused the flag to stream back.
Since the Stars and Stripes are mounted with the canton closest to the pole, that section of the flag stayed to the right, while the stripes flew to the left. Therefore, the flag is worn on the right shoulder, and wearing it backward gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.
In 2003, in the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the uniform regulation for the Army was updated. Army Regulation 670-1, “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” addresses explicitly the proper and lawful placement of the U.S. flag patch on the Army uniform.
“The Stars are to face forward,” the regulation states. When authorized for application to the proper uniform the American flag patch is to be worn, right or left shoulder. One of the flags will, therefore, be reversed (right shoulder) in order to adhere to the regulation and custom of having the stars facing forward. The term, “Assaulting Forward” has been adopted by combat troops versus “Facing Forward”.
The appropriate flag (color or subdued) for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the ‘reverse side flag’.
Formerly, U.S. Army regulations had required the flag to be worn only during joint-duty and multinational deployments and stated that it should be removed when the service member returned to home station. However, the flag became a mandatory uniform component at all times in 2005. Chapter 1, Title 4, United States Code, provides for the design of the U.S. flag and specifies the colors as red, white, and blue.
When approved for wear, the full-color U.S. flag cloth replica is sewn half an inch below the right shoulder seam. It should be worn with the temperate, hot-weather, enhanced hot weather, and desert battle dress uniform; the battle dress uniform field jacket; and the cold-weather uniform.
The red, white and blue flag patch obviously would not be recommended wear on their combat fatigues or camouflaged uniforms so the subdued flag is authorized wear.