American flag direction on military uniforms

While watching the war on TV, I’ve been seeing a lot of General Brooks giving briefings out of Central Command in Qatar. I noticed that the orientation of the american flag on his uniform doesn’t “seem” correct to me. I think that the flag on his uniform “should” have the union of stars toward the left, as you see the general on TV. Now, I am not going to stand here and accuse a Brigadier general of being out of uniform, but it does seem strange to me. I was watching the Braves game tonight and several players were displaying the flag on their warm-up jackets oriented the way that “seems right” to me. If the Army has a reason for everything, what is the reason for the flag orientation? Has it changed recently?

The correct orientation in most cases is with the field of stars to the upper-left. However, on military uniforms, like General Brooks’s, the flag is reversed with the field of stars to the upper right in order to give the impression that the flag is “flying in the wind.”

miatachris, this thread from earlier today will answer your question: Back to front US flags on US soldiers jackets

Thanks, guys. If I had spent even 1/10 of the time searching GQ rather than Google I would have found it.

A flag on anything which moves (planes, ships, people) is oriented so that the stripes are pointing to the rear, so as to be “blowing in the wind”. Possible exception: Sailing ships might have the flag with stripes forward, but I’m not sure of this.

Chronos, you are of course correct for any painted or embroidered flag.

For an actual physical flag flown from a vessel (which is referred to as the national ensign, in the case of a national flag), the flag is simply attached to the mast at the side of the flag with the field of stars (in the case of the U.S. national ensign), and like any other flag, the flag will be oriented at the whim of the wind. If the vessel is powered and moving rapidly, the flag will likely be blowing aft (toward the rear). In the case of sailing vessels with the wind from dead astern, the flag will likely be blowing forward.

In general, of course, there really is no “correct” orientation for flags on flagpoles or masts. Both sides are designed to be recognizable. A flag’s orientation depends on the location of the observer and on which way the wind is blowing.

I thought they were just too cheap to have two different flag patches made so that they would appear correct on both left & right shoulders.

If you think about it, the existing system actually does require a different patch for each shoulder. It would only be necessary to produce one patch if you always wanted the field of stars to appear in the upper left.

Not only do uniform suppliers produce full color patches in both orientations, they also produce subdued camouflage versions for use on field BDUs/utilities. I don’t think the minimal cost involved enters into the equation.

There are pictures toward the bottom of this web page:

Many commercial airliners have done this for awhile. The US flags on the right side of the aircraft, will appear “backwards”. Busses do it too.

The reason that the flag on the right side appears backwards is that the stars always lead the way. If you have the stars in the rear, it is a sign of retreat.

This thread is 8 years old, but I’ll add anyway that your explanation always struck me as something made up after the fact to give it some sort of martial meaning. I’m sticking with “because it looks right”.

A similar convention occurs in medieval heraldry. Unless the blazon explicitly states otherwise, an animal is always depicted facing the dexter (bearer’s right, viewer’s left) side of the shield. So, when the shield is carried on the left arm, the animal appears to be charging toward the enemy.

Well yeah, it is simply because it represents a flag and a flag can be viewed from both sides. If you take it that the flag is moving forward then when viewing the starboard side the flag will have the stars at the front. Other countries do the same thing and it actually annoys me that the flag that is painted on the aircraft I fly is NOT reversed on the starboard side. It seems that someone didn’t know their flag etiquette when doing the decals.

And I’m pleased that you have properly used “starboard” rather than “right side” to describe that side of an airplane (or airship).

That’s what you get for having an assymetrical flag. Work harder on that next time, guys.

Heh yeah. Using “starboard” is not something I normally do but I like to be careful about getting my thoughts across accurately in written form and “right” just seemed so ambiguous.

Chronos and robby are correct. Alas, some of the links have gone dead.

Air Force One; note the flag on the tail:

Continental Airlines, with the flag on both sides of the fuselage, oriented differently on each side so that it appears to be flying in the breeze:

Greyhound bus:

U.S. Capitol police:

Of course it’s possible to have too much of a good thing:

Oddly enough, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts wear American flag patches on the right arm of their uniforms, but it’s oriented so that the stars are to the rear:

Spiff: The use of “starboard” and “port” in aviation is, at least in the US, an affectation or an anachronism. Left & right are the correct terms of art and have been for the 40-ish years I’ve been in or around the business.

I can’t speak to correct usage in Australia where **Richard Pearse **lives & flies.

Certainly, the terms would be less needed in aviation, since people on an airplane generally don’t move around much and are all facing the same direction. They’re necessary on a ship, since on a ship, you might have to tell someone something like “go down that passageway and turn left”, and it could be unclear whether “left” meant the ship’s left or the person’s.

The issue still arises in aviation. The standard is that all references to left & right are from the airplane’s point of view, ie. as seen by a person facing forward.

e.g. the left side of the aft exit tunnel is the side on the left side of the aircraft. Which would be on the user’s right as they file aft through it to egress.

And yes, when dealing with blonde flight attendants one does need to doublecheck that they’ve done this mental rotation correctly when they describe where some problem is.