There’s a saying about people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. In the U.S. Army, soldiers may wear a lot of their history there as well. That can be a downright literal interpretation. On enlisted dress uniforms, the hash-mark service stripes on the left sleeve mark off a soldier’s years of service three at a time. Other official Army badges and tabs denote everything from specializations to accomplishments.

With the advent of velcro on uniforms, soldiers even sport unofficial tabs and badges, though not during inspection. After all, if it’s not in AR 670-1, it had better not be on that uniform.

What Do Army Badges Show?

Where You’ve Been

Not only the nature of a badge but also its location can be significant to the story it tells. Worn on the left shoulder, a unit patch – or Shoulder Sleeve Insignia – tells which division or major formation a soldier is currently assigned to. Worn on the right shoulder, that same patch identifies the formation a soldier served in during a combat deployment.

Soldiers who have had tours with multiple divisions or commands can choose which combat patch to wear. Some Army units may even be authorized to wear a combat patch from a different branch. My own unit was attached to the 1st Marine Division for the invasion of Iraq. It was an honor to be authorized to wear the Guadalcanal patch.