Different Types of Military Patches and Their Meanings

Different Types of Military Patches and Their Meanings

May 11, 2022

Once you learn the jargon used inside military circles, you can begin to understand the culture of military installations. Most of this language and culture originates from a singular source—the military uniform.

A uniform is a physical manifestation of a resume if ever there was one. It serves as a symbol of multiple things, as do the patches that are sewn onto the uniforms. These patches may indicate things such as the identity of an individual, their rank and job title, and the branch of service to which they belong. The uniform and its patches even indicate the unit the individual was in combat with and the nation they are defending.

In a way, the uniform is their identity because it tells where they’ve been, where they currently are, and where they’re going. This list will give you a better understanding of each patch by categorizing the different types of military patches and their meanings. It will also help you identify individuals when you’re in or around military installations and areas of operation.

Insignias Patches

These patches might seem generic, but they’re one of the most definitive pieces of the US military uniform. This patch identifies the branch of service that the member belongs to while on duty. The insignia on the patch will signify whether the individual is part of the US Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, or Space Force.

The insignia will always be placed above the lefthand breast pocket of the uniform. This helps clarify which branch of service the member is a part of since some uniforms look very similar, making it difficult to determine the correct branch at a glance. This is especially helpful for civilians who may not be familiar with certain military uniforms.

Name Patches

These patches are exactly what you would expect. When you are issued your uniform as a member of the US military, your last name will be embroidered on the uniform.

It will always be found in bold on the right-hand side of the uniform so that it can be easily read from near or far by your superiors or anyone seeking to determine who you are. This patch is standard for every service uniform, regardless of branch. Like the various badges and ribbons worn to signify a member’s rank, branch of service, experience, and specialty qualifications earned while serving in the armed forces, the name patch is one more form of identity verification for military personnel.

Unit Patches

The unit patch mainly applies to anyone operating in a combat zone or on deployment in an area with active warfare, where the camouflage utility uniform is authorized. It should be noted that members of the Army are always required to wear this uniform. Unit patches signify specific units or divisions that the military member is assigned to while in combat; each patch contains different artwork and insignias to identify the specific unit of each member.

These patches can be seen outside of war zones on the uniforms of senior members who have previously been in combat. These individuals may continue to wear the patches from units they have served with in the past. You will always find these patches on the left shoulder of a uniform worn by those serving in active combat zones.

Rank/Rate Patches

Rank and rate patches are specific to each branch of service and are one of the most crucial parts of the uniform, if not the most important. These patches identify the ever-changing nature of the member’s status, also known as their rank. As their rank increases, they will receive a new patch with different characteristics and insignias that represent the promotion in rank.

In the Navy, for instance, the rank and what is known as rate are linked together in one patch. Other branches of service do this as well but use different terminology, sometimes in the form of military occupational specialty (MOS) codes, to identify their job title. The job and rank structure are all dependent on factors such as overall time in the service, amount of training, combat experience, and specialties acquired along the way.

Ensign Patches

Another patch worn by all uniformed military service members is the ensign, or the United States national flag. All members of the military are given this patch to wear as a memorial to all who have served and a physical reminder of what they are fighting for. What makes this patch unique is the direction that it faces when worn on the uniform.

If you closely inspect a service member’s uniform, you’ll notice that the flag is facing backward. This is no mistake—it’s symbolic. First, it signifies the patriot carrying the flag and how the flag appears as it moves forward. Second, it shows that while on active duty, the member is actively fighting for peace and democracy. If the patch were to show the flag flying in the opposite direction, it would signal peace and stillness.

Tabs Patches

Specialty patches are awarded to active service members who go above and beyond the call of duty to gain specialty qualifications. The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have what are known as warfare pins, which can be swapped out for OCP patches and attached to the OCP uniform. These patches can only be worn by individuals who went above and beyond in their duties and were hand-selected for these specialty training programs.

Tab patches are situated above the unit patch on the left shoulder. They are the same in every way and are made with the same woven material used for camouflage uniforms. These patches can include designations for warfare device pins, Ranger, Special Forces, and so on.

There are many different types of military patches, and their meanings each represent something special. These individual patches describe the identity and record of each service member’s career as they progress through their time in service. The use of these patches also allows other members of the military to quickly identify individuals in uniform.

Different Types of Military Patches and Their Meanings