US troops' uniforms have the US flag reversed. Why?

Every news photo that I’ve seen over the past year of US military personnel in combat fatigues shows that their shoulder flag patch is reversed. The blue field of stars is on the right. The patches appear to have been embroidered this way; the patch is not merely sewn on back-to-front.

This has been bugging me for awhile, and I can’t seem to get an answer.

Anybody know?

If this has been a forum thread before, forgive me.

Wherever the flag is sewn onto your uniform the field of stars is to be closest to your heart.

Only on the right arm so that the bule field appears to be moving forward. On the left arm the field is upper left.

OK, I can dig that.

So, wouldn’t it be a lot easier and more meaningful to sew the flag onto the *left * shoulder?
I mean, c’mon!

Surely somebody in the Army could’ve figured that out without a compass!

It would then be a target.


Is there some Geneva Convention rule that I haven’t heard about that says you can’t shoot at the enemy from their right side?
What *isn’t * a target in combat?

This has been discussed countless times. It also happens on tails of airplanes, vehicles etc and it is to give the impression the flag is moving forward.

Again, if the illusion that the flag is moving forward is all that is intended, it would be just as easily accomplished by placing the flag on the left shoulder.

Reversing the flag does not create a “forward motion” illusion for me. It merely makes the flag look backwards.

OK. Any other theories?

My mom’s theory is that it was meant to foil enemy impostors wearing stolen or copied uniforms.

Sorry, but this doesn’t fly when you consider ships, or flags on poles elsewhere.

Has the US Navy started flying reversed flags from the starboard sides of its ships now?

How do they make that flag on the pole (planted in the ground) at the military base or on top of the US Capitol appear to move forward?

It would be an outstanding target on a uniform and directly over a vital organ obviously. Imagine a sniper focusing crosshairs on a ch.chip or jungle stripe there is no “obvious” target unless you magnify back your scope until the whole image is in view. This gives less accuracy.
Now if you can focus in directly on a red, white and blue object placed directly over the heart. You can magnify your scope in very close and practically assure yourself of a kill.

This has been discussed before but can bear repeating.

The rule is, left shoulder going in to combat, right shoulder leaving combat. I remember having to stand in a long line before leaving Desert Storm waiting to get a flag sewn on to the right shoulder. Combat patches also go on the right shoulder, which you can only wear after serving in the unit during it’s time in combat. You have the option of wearing this patch (or any other combat patch you’ve earned the right to wear) for the rest of your time in the service (and most do).

The story I’ve heard about why the patch is reversed: Imagine holding a flag on a pole while moving forward (towards the battle). The flag streams behind a pole looking ‘reversed’ to a person looking from the flag bearer’s right. If the bearer is heading away from battle, the flag again is streaming behind the pole, but now you are looking at the flag bearer’s left side (since he’s turned around) and the flag appears normal. Confusing, I know, but that’s the story I’ve heard passed around in the ranks.

Watch some footage of soldier’s returning home. You should see the flag sewn on and appearing to fly ‘normal’.

Traditionally, the national ensign (flag) is flown at the stern of a ship or at the gaff (the rear edge of a gaff rigged sail, or a flag mast rigged to simulate this). When the ship is moving forward (absent srong stern or cross winds), the flag will stream aft from its mast.

When this streaming flag is seen from the port (left) side of the vessel, it will appear to be “normal.” When seen from the starboard (right) side, the observer is looking at the reverse of the flag and it appears to be “backwards.”

When airplanes and many other vehicles display “flags”, they don’t use actual fabric flags (which would be quickly destroyed by wind and weather), but painted or decal representations of flags. when these are on the port (left) side of the airplane tail (or other opaque surface) they are “normal” flags, and when they are on the starboard (right) side, they are “backwards” flags. This way it appears that the flag is streaming with the union (blue part) toward the front of the vehicle, the same way it would look as if it were flying from a ship.

Similarly, when flags are mounted on the right shoulder of a person, they are put on “backwards” so they are seen to be streaming back when the person moves forwards.

I’m not disagreeing w/ why it’s reversed on ships or on the arm of uniforms. The OP asked about the front shoulder.

Heretry this site it cites the US ARMY as its source. :slight_smile:

Thanks, t-keela!

That’s the kind of info I was looking for.

Sorry for being a bit rude earlier!
The whole thing still feels weird to me. Reversed doesn’t seem all that different than upside down…

Who am I to question the Army’s sense of ritual or symbolism, though?
I just wonder…

what do those countries whose flags are vertically symmetrical do to let the enemy know whether they’re advancing or retreating?

Billdo nailed it.

Horseflesh, that is new info to me, I will keep an eye out. I thought the Unit Patch went on the left shoulder.

US Army Uniform Regulations AR 670-1, 28-18.c.(2) states

And as for the Unit Patch, it is called Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI) and according to AR 670-1, 28, 16.e.(2),

Above referenced is Paragraph (1) of the same reg

This question was featured in an episode of History Channel’s “Mail Call” as well. One may question R. Lee Ermey’s accuracy in the face of simplicity, but he also gave the explanation of “it’s supposed to look like the flag is blowing backwards when the person moves forwards.”

Perhaps reading that US Army FAQ before you post would be wise:

Not a word about being “close to the wearer’s heart”; that’s BS made up by the author of that Website. Not a word about “front shoulders” (nor is there a word about it in the OP – I don’t know where you came up with that). I have left and right shoulders, myself.

I did read the site and perhaps I misunderstood the OP’s request. There are typically US flags on the sleeves of military apparel. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking sleeves.

shoulder=where the butt of your rifle goes

On the front of your right shoulder (over the pocket if you will) There is/was often a flag sewn there as well. At one time this flag was sewn over the left (heart) pocket, kinda like a badge. This patch was moved to the right side of the chest for the reasons given and replaced with military insignia and/or name usually in black letters. (less of a target) There are assholes out there that get off on target practice.

“Hey, there’s a lit cigarette…or hey, look at that shiny brass.” and Don’t wear your dogtags hanging out, they’re guaranteed to get stamped.

My mistake if this was NOT relevant to the OP.

Of course, I’m getting old and the Corps hoo-aah doesn’t always do things like everybody else.

The site was just something I googled to confirm what I had been told many years ago.

BTW It depends on what side of the flag pole you are standing doesn’t it? I think that’s what y’all are trying to get at, huh?

Oh well, y’all got all the knowledge…sorry for being some kinda dumbass.

Crap, I might have said that wrong. I guess I’d better go check my uniform, at least I know it’s right.

Unit patches on left for peacetime, but any prior unit patches worn in combat on right. While in Germany with the 11th ACR a lot of guys had same patch on both sides: once for duty in Germany (left) and service in Viet Nam (right).