Army Badges: A Look at Three Key Awards

The United States Army has a rich, storied history overflowing with tales of stunning courage and unparalleled bravery. From founding father George Washington, who served as commander-in-chief of the newly-formed Continental Army in 1775 – and served in our nation’s Army for decades prior to its being officially formed – to General George Patton, who once said “Always do everything you ask of those you command” the Army has an endless supply of warriors. Those warriors served through a stream of restructuring as the Army changed and grew from the Continental Army of 1775 to the Regular Army of 1812 to the National Army of 1917 to the present-day Army of the United States, which formed during World War II, and they’ll serve for years to come.

History of Badges

The history of badges in the Army is nearly as old as the Army itself. The oldest was the Fidelity Medallion, which was created by Congress in 1780 and awarded to the soldiers who took part in capturing Major John Andre, a British soldier instrumental in helping Benedict Arnold defect. “Fidelity” was inscribed on its face and “amor patriae vincit” – “the love of country conquers” – was on its back; only three were made and awarded. The Badge of Military Merit came next, in 1782, and tends to be considered the military’s first award due to the limited nature of the Fidelity Medallion. George Washington himself was responsible for the creation of the Badge of Military Merit, which he intended to pave the way for a number of other permanent awards for enlisted men. And although the Badge of Military Merit itself only lasted for a short time before falling into disuse, it was resurrected in 1932 as the Purple Heart.

Today there are numerous Army badges and tabs, each of which has its own story. Some are earned for mastering particular skills, some signify a particular MOS, and then there are those that can only be worn by soldiers who make particular personal sacrifices. In the telling of the stories behind some of those badges which require the greatest sacrifices or signify a particular honor, we find the true spirit of the soldier. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In the Army, badges are borne of excellence, and these are just a few.

Identification Badge: Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We are all aware of the Tomb of the Unknowns, also called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s located in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and stands as a monument to every American soldier who has died and not been identified. On March 4, 1921, an unidentified American serviceman was first buried in the Memorial Amphitheater plaza and then, on November 11, 1921, interred beneath a three-level marble tomb. At the time of the burial of the World War I unidentified soldier, there wasn’t an above-ground superstructure; after years of work, in 1931, a 56-ton block of Yule marble was sawn into the slabs necessary to form The Tomb we are all familiar with today. The panels are inscribed: the North and South sides with three wreaths and the six major battles Americans engaged in in France; the Eastside, which faces Washington, D.C., with the three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor; the Western side with “Here rest in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Guarding The Tomb are U.S. Army soldiers, and not just any soldiers. Although it’s a volunteer position, less than 20% of the soldiers who volunteer are accepted for training, and of those only a small fraction become guards. There are specific requirements regarding height, weight, and physical fitness as well as aptitude scores, conduct, and a number of intangible traits. Guards must have a strong military bearing and must be exceptionally well disciplined and highly motivated. As of October 17, 2014, only 627 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard badges have been issued, making it the second-least awarded badge in the U.S. military.

The badge

The badge is made of sterling silver and is two inches in diameter. Its face is inscribed with an inverted wreath similar to those etched into the marble of The Tomb itself, the wreath being a sign of mourning, and the Greek figures of Peace, Victory, and Valor, which are etched into the East panel of The Tomb. Beneath those images are the words “Honor Guard.” When the badge was originally designed in 1956 it was issued only temporarily, meant to be worn by guards during their tenure at The Tomb, but after 1963 regulations changed to allow the badge to become a permanent part of the uniform of soldiers who serve as guards. However, it is possible for the badge to be revoked if a soldier disgraces themselves, even if the actions take place after the completion of their time as a guard.

While guarding The Tomb, a strict routine is followed; a series of steps are taken around The Tomb, repeatedly, until each soldier is relieved of duty during the Changing of the Guard. Each section of the routine is measured in 21 steps, 21 being chosen to represent the highest military honor to the fallen: the 21 gun salute. Also notable is the “shoulder-arms” movement executed at each turn which involves the soldier’s placing their rifle on the shoulder nearest visitors to signify the fact that the soldier stands between The Tomb and any outside threat. It’s also the duty of the guards to handle any visitors behaving in a disrespectful manner.

Soldiers serving as guards take so many precise steps around The Tomb that a groove is worn into the mat that is placed around The Tomb. The mat is replaced twice a year – right before Memorial Day and right before Veteran’s Day – and wear is due in part to the specialized shoes worn by the guards, which contain metal plates for durability and to make the sharp clicking sound heard during maneuvers.

Soldiers serving as guards do not wear rank insignias, because they must not outrank the fallen they guard, and those ranks are not known. Weapons issued to guards change according to changes within the Army and have included the M1903 Springfield, M1 Garand, M1911, and M9. As of 2014, guards carry M14’s, which are affixed to ceremonial stocks that are hand-made by the guards themselves.

Guarding The Tomb is a great honor, and soldiers chosen to stand guard are granted a rare opportunity. The Tomb of the Unknown is symbolic not only of the sacrifices and suffering our nation’s soldiers willingly take on in service of our country but is a place where respect can be given and tribute paid to our fallen. A high price has been paid for our many freedoms, a price paid with the blood of our service members. Being chosen to guard the unidentified fallen is an incredible honor, and those who wear this badge deserve the utmost respect.

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Special Skill Tabs: Ranger Tab

On June 6, 1944, which was, of course, the historical date of D-Day, an assault landing was taking place on Dog White sector of Omaha Beach. There was intense resistance from German forces, and in various locations Rangers were spearheading a number of successful operations, including the famous scaling of the sheer cliffs at Point du Hoc. On Dog White, under heavy fire, General Norman Cota, who was then the assistant CO of the 29th Infantry Division, approached Major Max Schneider, who was the CO of the 5th Ranger Battalion, and asked him what his outfit was. The reply of “5th Rangers!” rang out, and Cota uttered the words that would become the Rangers motto: “Well, goddamn it then, Rangers, lead the way!” Today, “Rangers lead the way” is more than a motto for these operators; it’s a way of life.

In 1942, Major General Lucian Truscott of the U.S. Army proposed to General George Marshall that the Army form a unit that was set up “along the lines of the British Commandos.” The Army moved quickly, and on June 19, 1942, the 1st Ranger Battalion was sanctioned. The Rangers are an elite force, and the Ranger Tab is the symbol worn by men who have successfully complete Ranger School.

Ranger School is a 61-day course made up of three phases: Benning, Mountains, and Florida; phases are also referred to as crawl, walk, and run. During Ranger School, soldiers master combat leadership skills while undergoing significant mental and physical stress. The days stretch for 19.6 hours and soldiers get by with about 2,200 calories a day, and that’s while doing up to 20-mile ruck marches and, of course, the massive strain of Florida Phase. Soldiers who get through Ranger School earn the coveted black-and-gold tab but are not yet in battalion. It’s when a soldier gets into the 75th Ranger Regiment and is assigned to a battalion that they get their black-and-red scroll and officially serve as Rangers.

Notable Rangers can’t be listed without including Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” the Revolutionary War officer credited with establishing the earliest lineage of the Rangers. Marion is one of the fathers of guerilla warfare and excelled at sneak attacks and intelligence gathering. Also noteworthy is American football player Pat Tillman, who is well-known for walking away from a lucrative professional career to join the Army and become a Ranger. He was tragically killed in a friendly fire incident on April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan. Historically significant Ranger School graduates include General Colin Powell and General David Patraeus.

The Ranger Tab symbolizes the significant mental and physical fortitude it takes to graduate from the strenuous course, and those who wear it are part of a select group. The current attrition rate for Ranger School fluctuates between 42% and 50%, and that’s after managing to get into the school in the first place. Those who wear the scroll are members of an elite force tasked with a variety of missions including direct action, airfield seizure, airborne and air assaults, personnel recovery, and reconnaissance. The Rangers are the oldest Special Forces group in the Army, and their tenacity and valor in the face of imminent danger and death is not just impressive but frequently stunning.

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Combat Badges: Combat Infantryman Badge

The United States Infantry was established in 1775, the same time the Army itself was officially founded. Their insignia is a pair of 1795 Springfield muskets depicted in gold and crossed over one another, and their motto is “Follow Me.” Infantrymen are affectionately known as Grunts, and to be in the infantry is to be more than a soldier; Grunts are the rough-and-tumble men who have endured all manner of hardships with the singular goal of keeping the wolf at bay for more than 235 years. Grunts who have seen battle have their own badge: the Combat Infantryman Badge, or CIB.

The CIB was started in 1943 to recognize infantrymen who personally saw combat. It was established in part because the War Department was having trouble recruiting new infantry members, because, they said, “of all soldiers, it [is] recognized that the infantryman continuously operate[s] under the worst conditions and perform[s] a mission that was not assigned to any other soldier or unit…the infantry…[is] suffering the most casualties while receiving the least public recognition.” These enormous sacrifices deserve recognition, and so, the CIB was born:

“The present war has demonstrated the importance of highly proficient, tough, hard, and aggressive infantry, which can be obtained only by developing a high degree of individual all-around proficiency on the part of every infantryman. As a means of attaining the high standards desired and to foster esprit de corps in infantry units, the Expert Infantryman and Combat Infantryman badges are established for military personnel.” (Section 1, War Department Circular 269, dated October 27, 1943)

The CIB is a silver elliptic oak-leaf wreath, which symbolizes steadfast character, strength, and loyalty, with a 3-inch-wide infantry-blue rectangle over it picturing a silver Model 1795 Springfield Arsenal Musket. Stars are added to the CIB to signify the infantryman’s having fought in more than one war. Although the badge is designed for up to eight stars and, therefore, eight CIB awards, only three CIB’s are allowed according to Army Regulation 600-8-22. In order to be eligible for the CIB, a soldier must, first and foremost, be an infantryman who has satisfactorily performed his duties, must be assigned to an infantry unit when the unit goes into combat, and must actively engage the enemy in combat on the ground.

Triple CIB recipients are rare, and it was Lieutenant General David Grange, Jr., himself such a recipient, who pushed to have a list compiled of men who had achieved the honor. The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, began collecting those names, and according to records there are currently 324 three-time CIB recipients. Due to the 48-year gap between the Korean War, which is the second eligible war, and the current War on Terror, which is the fourth eligible war, all listed three-time recipients served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

There are a slew of infantrymen who have earned their CIB and deserve recognition, but perhaps the most famous of all is Major Audie Murphy. Audie Murphy was one of the most highly decorated combat soldiers of World War II and is known for his many impressive acts of heroism. It’s hard to narrow his actions down, but the moments after his friend Private Lattie Tipton was cut down by German machine gun fire are significant. When Tipton was shot, Murphy flew into what he later described as a blind rage, using his own weapon to take out as many enemies as possible, and when he ran out of ammo, he simply picked up a heavy machine gun from one of the fallen Germans. Witnesses said he took out every German in a 100-yard radius, including two machine gun nests and multiple snipers. When the bullets stopped flying, Murphy was entirely unscathed. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, an award he passed on to his late friend’s daughter.

The battle during which an infantryman earns his CIB is one he never forgets, and for good reason. Essayist Richard Grenier once paraphrased George Orwell, saying “We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us,” and his words could easily have been penned about Grunts. The men with a CIB pinned to the left-breast coat pocket of their Class As or sewn onto their ACUs have earned the badge by putting their own lives at risk. The phenomenal worth of the CIB and the man behind it should never be underestimated.

Each and every Army badge and tab signifies something of importance. They’re small pieces of metal or cloth that stand for actions so much greater than themselves, and the soldiers who earn them train hard, work hard, and fight tooth-and-nail. Members of the Army join the ranks of men like Stonewall Jackson, General George Patton, Captain Alvin York, Sergeant Randy Shughart, and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon. Army Strong, indeed.

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Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.

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