How to identify military patches

Written by douglas arnold
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Regardless of branch of service, rank or combat speciality, military personnel throughout the world depend upon cloth patches to identify and communicate vital information on rank, unit or skill specialisation. The use of cloth patches has been a part of military uniforms for hundreds of years. As organised military forces developed uniform costume to take the field of battle, colourful cloth adornments have been a part of military tradition. Patches are typically worn on the shoulder or chest and are sewn directly on the jacket, vest or blouse. In the 1600s, the French began organising their armies into regiments and, throughout Europe, regiments began identifying themselves with distinctive metallic badges and crests. These evolved into embroidered cloth patchwork, and by the 1800s, armies throughout Europe and the Americas began wearing military patches to identify rank (private, corporal, sergeant), units (regiments, divisions, companies) and specialisation of skills (infantry, artillery, cavalry). Contemporary patches are known as shoulder sleeve insignia, or SSI.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Ruler

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  1. 1

    Determine the patch's shape. Patches are made out of various geometric shapes, including squares, circles and triangles. Chevron-shaped patches, in the shape of a "vee," almost always designate of rank. Stacked chevrons indicate greater rank. A private would have one chevron, a corporal would have two, and a sergeant would have three or more.

  2. 2

    Use a small ruler to measure the patch. Shoulder patches are typically no larger than about 3 inches wide or high, depending upon the shape. Smaller patches may be worn on the chest of a uniform, or may be on the sleeve of a jacket or blouse.

  3. 3

    Examine and define the patch's colours. Most patches have vibrant and distinctive colour combinations, although contemporary combat uniforms use earth tones (brown, green and grey) or camoflauged patterns on patchwork.

  4. 4

    Use the magnifying glass to examine the patch closely and note images, logos or designs. Images, such as animals, shields, crests, weapons, aircrafts and ships give the most critical clue as to identifying a patch.

  5. 5

    Identify words, mottos and phrases on the patch. Many patches have words, such as "Seabees" or "Hellcats," that denote specific duty stations, commands or fighting units. Slogans can also often be found. Foreign words do not necessarily mean the patch is not an American patch. Many U.S. and USN patches have Latin words.

  6. 6

    Check references. Once you have defined the shape, size, colours, patterns and words, match the patch to illustrations found in reference guides. Most references have colour illustrations organised by war, including the Civil War, World War I, World War 2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They also denote patches by the army, division and brigade they represent.

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