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Why Is the American Flag Backward on Military Uniforms?

Has the question, "Why is the American flag backwards on military uniforms," ever come to your mind? We're here to debunk the idea that this method is wrong, and uncover the history behind the tradition.

Why is the American flag backward on military uniforms? A question that is asked more often than you think, why would every solider's uniform be wrong? Though it might look wrong, it is not. 

And the reason behind placing the American flag this way is much simpler than you think. Let's dive into the history of this method, what brought it to be, and the traditions that back it. 

What is the history of flags being worn on the right?

To begin answering the question of why is the American flag backward on military uniforms, we must cover the history of the flag being worn on the right.

A place of honor, the American flag has the history of always being worn on the right of other organization flags, such as the Navy Flag or the USMC, as a sign of respect to their country. So before you come up with an easy fix to the "backward" flag on military uniforms, this would be incorrectly worn. Those flags worn on the right shoulder are referenced to be "backward." 

How are flags worn on uniforms?

On Army uniforms, according to paragraph 28-18 in the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, Army regulation 670-1 states that the United States' flag must be worn on all uniforms, specifically the right shoulder: 

"All Soldiers will wear the full-color U.S. flag embroidered insignia on utility and organizational uniforms unless deployed or in a field environment. Soldiers will wear the subdued tactical flag insignia while deployed or in a field environment." 

Why is the American flag backward on military uniforms? The flag is regulated to be worn on each Army uniform, and the historical tradition is held that it should be placed on the right upper arm.  

Why does the flag always face forward?

The US flag dips to no man or king. A mark of respect to the flag, the American flag is the only flag in the Olympics ceremonies that does not dip to the head of state or the host country.  

The flag must always be facing forward, which is typically seen as the stars on the left-hand side of the pole, seen as facing forward and never retreating. However, on an arm patch, this is seen as the opposite or reversed. 

Why is the American flag backwards on military uniforms?

Finally, we can get to the point, and answer your dying question of, "Why is the American flag backward on military uniforms?" The basic idea behind the reversed American flag featured on military uniforms is that it is meant to make it look as though the flag is flying. 

Though this reasoning is not as exciting as you might have been hoping for, the flag is positioned to look as if the person wearing it is moving forward, toward the wind. This is dated back to the early history of the Army, and those who carried the flag into battle. Mimicking this action, the uniform bears the forward momentum causing the flag to stream back and behind it. 

Here's a little more on the Army's early history...

Wearing the flag backward gives the effect of the flag flying, thus mimicking the action of the early Army veterans who carried the flag, being apart of both mounted cavalry and infantry units

These units would designate a "standard bearer" who would carry the flag forward into battle. So, long story short, the flag is appropriately being faced forward, though it might not seem to be by the unknowing civilian. It is identified, on the right shoulder, to be the "reverse side flag." 

The flag is sewn half an inch below the right shoulder seam, intemperate, hot weather, and desert battle dress uniform, as well as the cold weather uniform, and the battle dress uniform field jacket. 

However, it is not to be worn on camouflaged or combat fatigues uniforms, as it is too bright a color. 

Is it incredibly noticeable?

Believe it or not, the American flag backward on military uniforms is not as noticeable as you might think. Though once you have discovered the difference in the flag, it is easy to pick up, the flag is not as easily deciphered as "wrong" as many believe it to be. It is easily missed if you aren't looking closely at the uniform. 

However, there was a backlash from this change, filled with plenty of "easy fixes" such as switching the arm, to replacing the flag altogether. These suggestions are often made by people who are misunderstanding the importance of the flag to Americans. Still today, military men receive the question of why the American flag is reversed on the daily, in the airport, on public transportation, you name it. 

Where else is the flag seen "backward"?

Besides the feature of the American flag backward on military uniforms, US-flagged aircraft and vehicles marked with the American flag are both no different from the uniforms. Both featuring a flag that is "reversed" the two vehicles are seen to be displayed with backward American flags for the same reason of the uniforms. 

The same principle applies, the reverse side flags are seen flying in the breeze with the striped behind, instead of retreating. On a moving vehicle, this should always appear to be moving forward. 

Do other countries do this?

Believe it or not, the US is not the only nation to reverse their flag while worn on the right arm. And to complete our lesson answering why is the American flag backward on military uniforms, Norway, too, practices this same concept, much like many other nations that are simply not as known for their military uniforms. 

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