As you know, the military is famous for catch-22s and conflicting interests. When I arrived at Fort Bragg, one of the first things I was told to do was to sew a reverse American flag on my right shoulder and the Civil Affairs Command patch with an Airborne Tab on my left. I did as directed, although this is very unusual for a navy uniform. Just before we left, we were issued an additional set of uniforms by the Army – these all had Airborne Tabs, CA Patches, and American Flags. As such it must be official.
Once we arrived in Kuwait, one of the first things the Navy liaison told us was “our patches were not authorized”. In Iraq, the Navy liaisons reiterated this directive. Now the Navy is full of sea lawyers and thank goodness this Army unit has its fair share. Our Master Chief dug through the Navy regulations and found out that when assigned to a unit from another service (not a joint assignment – I am officially in the Army and the Navy at present) you are authorized to wear their uniform. The only thing you must wear is USN rank insignia, a USN Name Tape, and a US NAVY tape. Anything else you wear is up to the command. You would think this was sufficiently clear, but the Navy liaison would not listen. We were then ordered to remove the patches for our Turn-over of Authority ceremony. So we did or at least everyone took them off at least one uniform for the ceremony. At this point the battle ensued, everyday you would notice at least one Sailor sporting his banned patches. I stopped wearing the uniforms with them, but put them on the shoulders of my armor.
This became the topic of constant comment and plotting. We knew we had to win the battle of the patches. So after 60 days, the Army had a ceremony to award combat patches to every member of the unit. This patch is the “been there, done that patch” worn by Army combat veterans. It is worn on the right sleeve above the American flag (on DCUs) or below the flag on the Army’s ACUs (remember the picture with the jolly green giant in ACUs and little me in DCUs?). So there we were in formation and the Command Sgt Major authorized us to wear our new combat patch. (By the way, the patch is the Multi-National Corps – Iraq shield).
Within hours the patch battle had reached a new crescendo as Sailors rushed to have their patches sewn back on. Now the number of patch wearers had reached the noticeable level. Down came the word from the Navy liaisons again – patches are not authorized. And then our Fairy Godmother stepped in. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations came to Iraq to see the Narmy Soldiers, the Sandfleas, – the Sandbox Sailors. When he opened it up for questions, one brave Sailor asked the Admiral about the patches. “Patches, you are wearing patches? Of course you should be wearing patches, you are in the Narmy! Why wouldn’t you wear patches?” (These are my words, but surely a close paraphrase of the Admiral’s intentions.). The infidel Navy liaisons still would not believe. Once VCNO got home he sent out a memo authorizing our beloved, hard-fought patches. The order was rescinded forbidding them. Patches sprouted everywhere. Some people want to put patches on their PJs. One by one as people leave for R&R; they board the plane with gleaming patches on their shoulders. We have been there, done that, and won the battle of the patches. Eternal vigilance is the price of patch freedom.