Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Eldridge Colby sought to secure support for the National Defense Strategy in the new Congress. Colby explained that the Department of Defense should “expand the competitive space—meaning above all to adopt a competitive mentality in everything that Department personnel do, one . . . that searches for new or untapped sources of advantage.” In short, the Pentagon called for a new mindset to execute radical policy change, and carried that message to Congress. Individual branches need to adopt that mindset and inculcate it in their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Yet how do you make a competitive mindset tangible for the troops?
Conflict is changing—and so must the Army. This change runs against an organizational culture that is biased toward combat experience in a static mission set during an era of renewed, persistent competition. The force’s current bias toward combat distinction runs counter to this new reality: as the geopolitical tectonic plates shift beneath us toward great power competition, the vast majority of the Army’s tasks will occur below the threshold of armed conflict. And below this threshold the Army historically performs poorly—in part because it demands a different skillset and mindset.
The uniform can be a powerful tool in implementing this policy change. Collectively, it is a visual reminder of cohesion, unity, and shared purpose. Individually, it represents pride, experience, and authority. David Axe wrote that “a soldier’s uniform is uniform in only the most general sense of the word. Few wear the same combination of patches, badges, and wings. Every soldier’s uniform is like a pressed, camouflaged, wearable resume.” The strength comes from this mix of objective stature and subjective idealism. As a result, the uniform can be leveraged for change. Famously, retired Gen. David Petraeus, as a battalion commander, instituted a policy to button the top button of the combat fatigues, called the “battle button” to both camouflage the top of the neck as well as distinguish the unit from others. This policy conveyed an external message with the goal of binding the unit together. Yet in the face of prolonged and ever-changing competition, when was the last time a US Army uniform change positively impacted the force’s mission? More specifically, when did a uniform change positively impact the force’s future mission?
Given these institutional biases, how does the US Army build the mindset and skillset necessary for victory in a period of persistent competition? Reform the combat patch. The service’s persistent combat bias is perhaps best represented by “shoulder sleeve insignia – former wartime service (SSI-FWTS),” which is emblematic of a paradigm set adrift since its inception nearly eighty years ago. Army SSI-FWTS reform represents an opportunity to better posture the service to succeed in competition by signaling and stewarding the skills required in future operations.
The Army’s Expanding Role in Competition Below Armed Conflict
Current policy guidance and future projections alike show the nature of conflict shifting toward great power competition. For the first time, the 2017 National Security Strategy proposed an era of continuous competition—one that challenges the US security community to rethink nearly three decades of policy. However, just as during the previous iteration of great power competition, there will be demands for combat capabilities beneath the level of armed conflict. The 2018 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning replaced the binary war-and-peace model, introducing the competition continuum of cooperation, competition, and armed conflict. It described competition as a period when “two or more actors in the international system have incompatible interests but neither seeks to escalate to armed conflict.”
Rather than resort to armed conflict, states will utilize all instruments of power across the multiple domains of air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace. The National Defense Strategy’s core mandate is to expand the competitive space in part by fortifying alliances and deterring aggression globally. This is why the Pentagon has called on the force to foster a new, competitive mindset that encompasses the skills necessary to succeed. In conjunction with other branches, the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations concept development is now charged with planning how Army forces, as part of the joint force, will prevail in competition. The combined weight of policy and conflict projection shows a drastically new competition focus, at levels less than armed conflict, requiring drastic mindset and skillset changes.
The importance of mission success below the threshold of armed conflict is already valid in today’s complex operating environments. Success here proactively stabilizes a competitive space for future US tools and interests, providing the opportunity to leverage diplomatic, information, and economic tools to maximum effect. It also counters competitor destabilization efforts. The Army partly recognizes this truth already, allocating the vast majority of troop deployments to competition. Brigade and battalion task forces deploy rotationally to the Korean Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia. As outlined in the Multi-Domain Operations concept, these units demonstrate a forward, credible deterrent in geographic areas where state interests collide. Whether through partnered training or stabilizing presence, they attempt to counter adversary reconnaissance as well as defeat adversary information and unconventional warfare. These operations communicate strategic priorities originally set forth in the National Security Strategy.
Unfortunately, Army performance, as part of larger joint force, historically struggles below armed conflict. Non-combat operations like those in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo exemplify where military action did not successfully create space for implementation of all national tools of power. Similar action today leaves opportunity for destabilization by competitors across domains—opportunity more likely exploited at faster rates in the future. In a new era marked by a non-binary relationship between peace and war as well as a reduction of absolute US superiority, improving performance in competition matters. However, one does not need to look far to see why the Army historically underperformed in competition below armed conflict. The service does not prioritize it—and you can see it in the uniform.
“Combat Patch” Policy Drift and its Unintended Consequences
The implementation of the current “combat patch” policy drifted far from its original intent. Currently, SSI-FWTS recognizes a unit’s participation in or support to combat operations against hostile forces, as designated by the secretary of the Army or Congress.
However, according to the Army Institute of Heraldry, during World War II the SSI-FWTS recognized a soldier’s overseas wartime experience in a past unit; troops wore their old unit patch on the right shoulder only after moving to a new unit, and regardless of whether the unit had served in combat. This applied equally to combat and support troops alike, similar to the era’s overseas service bar eligibility for all troops deployed outside the continental United States. In short, the SSI-FWTS recognized deployed overseas service, not necessarily in an area of active combat.
Since World War II, Army SSI-FWTS policy drifted to its current “combat patch” form, but not without consequence. Political science literature discusses the uncoupling of the intent of policy and its implementation effects. A stagnant policy can change over time because of a dynamic environment. This separates the policy from its intended outcome. This drift can occur at any organizational level without proper controls such as continuous goal reassessment. Unguided policy change, driven not by institutional reform but by a continually changing environment, causes unintended consequences over time. As a result, any organization must revisit even its most cherished traditions. In the modern US Army, earning the right to wear a combat patch is a revered accomplishment. However, this visible uniform policy recognizing service in combat may not accurately communicate the Army’s evolving goals, and specifically what is needed to succeed in competition.
Building the Competitive Mindset
If the Army SSI-FWTS is adrift after nearly eighty years of stagnated policy, then why concern ourselves with it? Whether its creators understood it at conception, the US Army’s SSI-FWTS serves two purposes: it is a means of signaling and an influence on group dynamics.
Building the Mindset: Signaling Within the Army
One reason the US Army wears the SSI is to signal the experience-derived skills the institution deems important. In economics, signaling is a process by which one party reveals scarce information to another to overcome information gaps. These signals are heuristics of past experience. While a business partner touts a diploma to signal credibility, a soldier’s foremost signaling mechanism is the uniform. Properly structured signals and incentives can induce certain behaviors. The uniform is an implicit symbol of institutional priorities that facilitate more efficient communication. Amongst these signals, combat experience is by far the most represented: SSI-FWTS and combat badges on the field uniform, in addition to overseas service bars and service ribbon devices on the dress uniform. Signals are not perfect. No two experiences that earned soldiers the combat infantry badge are the same, nor do they necessarily portray current proficiency. Nonetheless, signals remain powerful manifestations of credibility and authority. Signals can ingrain themselves in a culture, such as the infamous “tab check” upon meeting a young infantry platoon leader—whether the lieutenant has completed Ranger School can carry an implicit authority comparable to rank itself. Ultimately, credibility is derived by what an institution chooses to highlight.
However, in today’s competitive environment, our credibility signal is out of balance, because the Army’s emphasis on combat experience inefficiently communicates performance below the threshold of armed conflict. The Multi-Domain Operations concept outlines capabilities necessary to prevail in multi-domain competition—such as calibrating force posture, building partner capacity, and understanding competitive environments. These capabilities’ derivative skills—like interoperability, information awareness, and cultural awareness—are not accurately captured by whether a right sleeve is blank or displays a combat patch. Yet they are practiced daily by much of the force in deployments below the level of armed conflict. As a result, SSI reform presents an opportunity to signal the skillsets required in the current and future operating environments, thereby reflecting the new, “competitive mindset” the Army should be seeking to inculcate in its soldiers.
Building the Mindset: Symbols and Unit Cohesion Within the Army
Another reason the US Army wears the SSI is the improved unit cohesion caused by strong symbols. Symbology and its effects are important components of several different fields of scholarship including anthropology, psychology, sociology, and political science. A symbol’s power comes from the desires of the organization itself. As a result, symbols can change over time to meet the organization’s needs. For example, a recent Army pilot program sought to similarly harness the power of symbolism to build unity of effort across components, permitting active, reserve, and National Guard soldiers to wear unit patches of “associated units” in different components. Similarly, Army leaders can widen the meaning and prestige currently associated with the SSI-FWTS to include competition, reflecting the shifting warfighting focus in the recent National Defense Strategy.
Unfortunately, signaling and symbology can negatively impact unit performance. The reverence surrounding the combat patch encourages distrust and apathy toward today’s mission set below the level of armed conflict at the unit level. Further, it creates ingroup–outgroup effects, both within deployed task forces and within the larger force. This, in turn, creates risks to retaining and promoting the right talent. Soldiers can perceive significant professional advantage or disadvantage based on a combat patch either amongst unit leadership or formal promotion boards. As a result, a unit patch provides a measure of individual worth effecting both career decisions and service satisfaction. Those who deploy to zones of competition participate in valuable work that supports the Army’s strategic goals. However, the US Army is leaving untapped sources of individual motivation and group cohesion on the competitive sideline.
Building Support for the Mindset
SSI-FWTS reform would help to operationalize the mindset required to succeed across the competition continuum. We propose two alterations to Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, whereby SSI-FWTS would be authorized for deployment (temporary change of station) in a declared “competitive zone.” A competitive zone would be a specified geographical area where state actor interests collide, placing formations and systems in contact across different domains. The revised regulation could appear as follows—based on the current AR 670-1 paragraph 19–17, a, (1), (a) and with revisions in italics:
(1) The Secretary of the Army or higher must declare the theater or area of operation as a hostile or competitive environment to which the unit is assigned or Congress must pass a Declaration of War.
(2) The units must have actively participated in or supported ground combat operations against hostile forces in which they were exposed to the threat of enemy action or fire, either directly or indirectly across the multi-domain spectrum.
Using this definition, the Army uniform offers more ways to build the competitive mindset. The Army should also award overseas services bars for competitive zone deployment time.
Deployment Patches: So Everyone Gets A Trophy?
Our argument is not intended to minimize the sacrifices, heroism, or skills required for combat deployments. They deserve recognition for the experience gained in the most challenging and dangerous circumstances. Deservingly, there are still many ways to reward performance in combat—like the Combat Infantry Badge, Combat Action Badge, and Combat Medical Badge, as well as the new combat-related device for awards. This recommendation is similar to the recent change in ribbon device policy. The new combat-related device does not minimize contributions that earn a “V” device, but is an additional way to demonstrate a soldier’s valuable contributions. Today, a “binary indicator” characterizing combat service is no longer matched well with the framework through which we view and prepare to operate across the global landscape. Small adjustments to uniforms can offer ancillary benefits including unit cohesion during policy change. A decade after 2001, the Army amended its uniform policy for Pentagon personnel to the Army Service Uniform, because the Army’s headquarters mission required a different mindset than that at the pointy end of the spear. Influencing the entire organization’s mindset will require a larger change.
SSI-FWTS reform is not the magic bullet in an era of great power competition. It is one symbolic plug in a gap in the Army’s conceptual framework, aimed at building the “competitive mindset.” The Army can lead the Department of Defense, profiling the values and skills required to deter conflict on favorable terms, succeed in the competitive space below armed conflict, and when needed, enable rapid transition to armed conflict. Reforming SSI-FWTS policy would signal a force-wide expectation of proficiency and success in competition.
Finally, while SSI-FWTS reform facilitates the competitive mindset necessary in future fights, it does not detract from garrison combat preparation. The military must still block and tackle. While the majority of deploying forces are destined for competitive environments, the majority of the entire force readies for high-intensity combat. The Army can, and must, incentivize success in operations other than war and yet still prepare for full-spectrum conflict.
The game is changing, and the US Army has work to do. While new technological and doctrinal innovations will be critical, the Army must build a new mindset to succeed in competition. To get there, the things the Army deems most important and the way the service signals them, must change.
Featured image credit: Cpl. Amber Stephens, US Army
for an article devoted to Army uniform culture, I was surprised to see the article end with "uniform" errors. CPT is the proper rank abbreviation for a Captain and CPL for a Corporal.
Thanks for your comment, Daniel. Although we are an Army organization, we feature articles about and by members of other services, which use different rank abbreviations, so we use the Chicago Manual of Style as our house style guide to maintain consistency.
However, this article was singularly about the Army, not the other Services. Human-in-the-loop editing and all that.
AR 25-50 only specifies using the three letter Army abbreviations for internal Department of the Army correspondence. The authors are not stupid, they are well educated and know how to write according to Army regulations. Correspondence outside of the DA uses the Chicago manual as they mentioned (check AR 25-50).
As a serving PAO I run into this "gotcha!" thing quite a lot. For internal Army communications I'll use CPT, 1LT, etc. like everyone else. For anything going out to the public, I'll write Capt., 1st Lt., etc.
Why is this? Am I just out of my mind, or did I just not get the memo?
As a matter of DoD policy, all public-facing communications put out by DOD and all service-specific Public Affairs follow the AP Style guidelines, which include AP Style rank abbreviations. Hence CSM (internal Army writing) is written Command Sgt. Maj. in public-facing docs, CPT = Capt., etc. The Navy, Air Force, and Marines also have their own internal-use rank abbreviations. For anything that goes out to the public, all services follow AP Style guidelines.
If the Modern War Institute writers have chosen to follow the Chicago style manual, there's nothing wrong with that. I'd have thought they would follow AP Style to be more inline with DoD, but if they chose differently, that's their business, and there's nothing wrong with it.
For what it's worth, you can see the full list of AP Style rank abbreviations here:
CPT and CPL and similar abbreviations for rank are only used in official military correspondence.
If you’re worried about innovation And competitiveness let’s fix military acquisition process before we worry about what patches we have in our uniforms.
Somewhere a crusty CSM, Who just finished reading a book on culture is smiling.
"So Everyone Gets A Trophy?" The way things are today, that's exactly what is expected.
After Vietnam, it didn't seem to matter if you had a combat patch or not. There sure were a lot of privates (PV2s)with all sorts of medals, though (Stolen Valor).
Sorry to see that 3-letter Army ranks are no longer in vogue, but it seems that it's more important for civilian consistency to overrule decades of Army use.
Everyone gets a Trophy….
Just like the black beret. Specialized units all wore berets before 2002. So let’s change the regs so everyone where’s a beret that way everyone will now be “special”. Changing to the ASU removed unit patches which designated the unit you were in 75th Rangers versus 297th BSB or Finance Battalion. Originally the Army was looking to do away with Combat Patches and overseas (combat) service bars too. It seems someone higher up doesn’t want anyone’s feelings hurt because someone’s uniform in finance or support doesn’t feel as good as someone in airborne or SF. So the easy answer is to remove all unit designators and give everyone a beret or as the authors suggest, give everyone a “combat” or “competitive” patch. If that’s they case, why even have any individual awards or unit patches at all anymore.
Everyone picks their own job and career field. If you want to be Hooah, then you get all the things that come with Hooah. If you want to sit in a sub basement on a computer or in a trailer flying a joystick…. then you made your choice and you get what goes along, or should I say doesn’t go along with that career field.
Believe it or not it's mainly a US-only view that the beret is a "trophy." Many other militaries around the world, and I include in that allies like Britain, Denmark, Germany, etc. all wear berets or similar headgear by default, and different units diferentiate themselves from each other (either by regiment, corps, or whatever) by color or specific shape. In these militaries simply wearing a beret itself isn't a "trophy." There's no reason the beret by itself has to be a "trophy" in US usage either.
While wearing a PC is certainly more convenient, and while it's also arguably true that the black beret wasn't a great match for the hideous ACUs, I don't necessarily dislike the beret, nor do I agree that it stands as a trophy. Green berets, maroon berets, the now-tan beret of the Rangers, yes that's a trophy of sorts, and there's nothing wrong with that. But general wearing of a black beret really shouldn't be regarded as a "participation trophy" any more than it is in many if not most of our allies' militaries; it's just what they wear, and it looks sharp. There's no reason it has to be different for us.
Absolutely. Tabs, combat patches, skill identifiers, etc serve as inspiration and motivation. If you want earn these trophies, you currently have to seek them out and earn them. Stop the with the nonsense.
I'm in Kuwait now which does not earn a patch. But unit CSMs organize trips to the boarder crossing so they can make an X with their toes in Iraq sand to "earn" their patch. Most disgusting example of stolen valor I have seen yet.
Nice try, Sharpshooter, but your comment about the 3-letter rank abbreviations is misguided. It has nothing to do with what's "in vogue" or not. Even with official Army (or any DoD branch) writing there are differences mandated by policy that depend on whether the writing is internal only or meant to be public facing.
By DoD policy, official military writing that's public facing must use the AP Style Guide abbreviations for military rank. Thus, an Army sergeant first class may be "SFC Smith" in internal Army writing (by Army policy), but is "Sgt. 1st Class Smith" in any public-facing writing. That's not incorrect usage; it's actually mandated by DoD policy. The purpose behind this is to harmonize DoD public communications with what is used most commonly in the media, so that the public sees consistent and more easily understandable terms. Considering that each service specifies its own internal abbreviations that often differ from each other even when referring to the same rank title, this is a perfectly reasonable policy.
The writers of this blog apparently aren't constrained by either Army or DoD policy and have chosen to follow the Chicago Manual of Style instead of AP Style. That is their choice, and there's nothing wrong with it. Following a style guide (rather than just doing what each individual writer perceives as "in vogue") promotes internal consistency to their writing.
Excellent points offered and focus on incentivizing future service especially at a period of time when the army struggles with recruitment, retention and a nebulous focus in the move to LSCO, large state actors and non-combat deployments to areas.
One does not need to enter a combat role to gain experience worth acknowledging, especially when we have the CIB and CAB among other awards to respect those who do. When earning a FWTS today doesn’t necessarily designate an increased capability or experience in participating in combat during deployments there is no reason to look down upon those who deploy to other-than Iraq/Afghanistan and then work harder in career progression or struggle with first impressions and perceived experience despite the same level of operational knowledge.
Perhaps they should have used that "same level of operational knowledge" in an environment that would have resulted in being awarded a combat patch or CIB instead of keeping it all theoretical?
Sorry Doug, did you have any control over being in a unit that deployed to an area that offered a FWTS? No? Me neither.
A, We have some control when we select our MOS/AOC… Many career management fields fill valuable requirements that simply aren't required in the deployment setting. To your point, some of us have been lucky enough to get assigned into positions that enabled deployments. I made some if my own luck by choices made qnd by volunteering. I am on the fence on whether or not deployments to areas other than areas qualifying for hostile fire pay should be signaled with a right sleeve patch.
For the OCP uniform my first position is no, they shouldn't but I'd support adding something extra to highlight service away from garrison but not in a combat zone. Why not a tab in the right shoulder? I await the grumbling from others and must point out the multitude of non-kinetic support great Soldiers do all over the world.
No control over unit assignment, duty station, whether that unit just got back or not etc…and so many other things that factor in. I didn't know the difference between Guard and Reserve nor had I any idea the infantry was itself a branch or job. I found out was infantry was when I got to Benning. I'm just one city boy who had no known family history of military service. You guys make a lot of assertions and assumptions about what was in a kids brain at the recruiter's office.
Yes, I was in a combat branch. It increased my odds of serving where the shooting took place.
The problem is that thousands of young soldiers are increasingly choosing to not go on combat deployments and instead choose to join units like the 1st Cavalry Division. In fact, an entire ABCT chooses to deploy to Eastern Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve instead of going on a combat deployment every year. Why didn't these soldiers just volunteer for a combat deployment instead? It gets more baffling since some of these soldiers decided to become infantrymen a job that gives them no equivalent civilian skills beyond janitorial skills and yet they keep choosing to not go on combat deployments. Oh well, I guess we will never know why these same soldiers chose to be born too late to go on combat deployments.
With the exception of the article that advocated for ditch-the-Abrams and go back to light tanks like the famously successful Sherman zippo lighter in WW2, this may be the most intellectually bereft article MWI has published to date.
Bold talk for an Internet warrior. Let's see your counter-arguement
Assertion: Army performance historically struggles below armed conflict (non-combat operations like those in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo).
Hint: Army performance in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo struggled under the common mastermind and commander-in-chief of those interventions, Bill Clinton.
Lesson: Apply K.I.S.S. and Occam's Razor to your thesis before wasting hours researching and writing an academic paper.
Tip: When you need to write a military academic paper, if your thesis is about how a uniform will dramatically change outcomes, you likely need to come up with a new thesis.
Ummm…Somalia was a GHW Bush thing first, Bosnia was/is a success story, Kosovo has an argument for being a success, Haiti achieved its very limited goals followed by Haiti returning to being the same messed up place it has been forever.
I have heard a lot of criticisms from senior folks about President Clinton but I never heard anything that indicated he micor-managed the National Security Staff or the Joint Chiefs. Given theses two Captains multiple factual errors, their complete lack of first hand knowledge of any of those operations and no evidence supporting the claim, their assessment that the Army "struggled" in them is questionable at best.
I agree with both your Lesson and Tip. I disagree that they wasted any time on research since I doubt any research was done at all.
Although the Captains are credited with four "operational deployments", their responsibilities during those assignments would be pertinent to the discussion. In my 25 years of service, I witnessed many plans formulated in the "academic" atmosphere of a headquarters where the potential failure of one component of an operational plan was considered unlikely and the competitive plan failed when applied in the final operation. I'm sorry, but the final exam of competence or effectiveness is still an operation where the circumstances are not controlled by assumptions, but by the opposing staff's imagination. While the combat patch is no guarantee of experience or responsibility under an active, unfettered situation, it is at least the start of a conversation to ascertain the individual's experience. Our current awards and decoration apparatus provides for recognition of administrative competition, but the final exam is still in the uncontrolled environment of operations involving an enemy force.
Arguments such as this are almost always initiated by officers or senior enlisted that are not confident in their service for one reason or another and feel inadequate. Leaders such as this will always say their motivation is ensuring the junior enlisted don't feel alienated or excluded because they are not part of the "in" group. However, the officers and senior leaders initiate these argument because their ego drives them. Seeking extrinsic gratification and career advancement are their priority. This "combat patch" discussion is a non-issue for a majority of the troops, I only hear this noise from careerist leaders.
With all that is going on in the World…these two “soldier scholars” attempt to dazzle us with some unit dynamics mumbo-jumbo over the impact of soldiers wearing a combat patch! Please…spend your time on more relevant military, geo-political issues of the day. The wearing of a combat patch has been a long honored tradition for those who have deployed to combat zones and have little or no impact on unit cohesion…much less on the overall goals of the US Army. Ridiculous. If you want to be part of a unit…then excel in all the unit training and set a personal example! By the way, my father, both uncles, both grandfathers and my father in law all wore combat patches from various conflicts AND Combat Infantry Badges. I also wear a combat patch from Vietnam and hope that the “modern” Army of today focuses on real issues rather than the wear of a patch on our uniforms.
Sir, I know I'm a bit late to your comment and all however I thought I should note that the combat patch has morphed into something probably much different than before you retired. I have in fact seen it create small embers in unit cohesion because of the who, how and why behind plans to get personnel patches. Notice I said plans to get them patches as in your present assignment and duty location does not warrant a patch but maybe we can do something about it. I have in fact witnesses, firsthand, suspicions on a commander's intentions and display of favoritism by who he insisted went to get a patch and who he delayed doing so. It also caused a lopsided leadership situation because joes were getting SENT to get their "combat" patches before their first line leaders. Instead of mission, joes were worried about when am I going to go and get mine. I agree that it has become an issue and no longer commands the respect it once did. I was shocked to learn how many troops were actually playing hokey pokey games to be a part of this "tradition."
I find it difficult to believe I just read this mess. What a mess of buzzword worship and convoluted confusion, with far more interest in singing Kumbaya than applying any measure of logic.
Was this an April Fool's Day prank, somehow as late as it is flawed?
Yes, preparing for the last war is a terrible thing, and we're in a unique point in history where doing that could have dire consequences. But if the solution to that hazard is to go after SSI-FWTS, we're in far more trouble than I'd ever imagined.
And this article seems to be based on multiple false premises. My combat deployments forced me to perform tasks which I hadn't performed before, and to train others on those unfamiliar tasks. As throughout military history, adapting and overcoming were necessary. So for me, the SSI-FWTS is the mark of someone who was successful in a situation requiring abrupt changes and creative solutions, not someone still out there stuck in the mud. And I simply don't accept that service in Iraq or Afghanistan means that one does not have a better understanding an adversarial situation.
Want to prepare for the next war? Want to implement the changes necessary to ensure the survival and success of liberty (sorry, JFK) in coming years? Good. But AR 670-1 isn't the place to drive those changes.
This may be the most staff officer thing ever written.
In that last section the authors cite an Army article for their claim of Pentagon personnel returning back to wearing the service uniform as their duty uniform. I've spent the last 8 yrs in the Pentagon and only need to wear ASU Bs on Fancy Fridays and for the last 2yrs in a new office we do not even do that.
If you put Virginia in a sausage
"They have previously served in the 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division with four operational deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Freedom Sentinel, and Joint Guardian."
So they have their combat patches. Reads like an acute case of, "Igotmineism."
"persistent combat bias?" Yes, that is what the Army should have now and in the future. Combat is the Army's entire reason for being. To fight and kill. That does not mean support forces are not integral to the success of the mission, but the fact is some people volunteer for a specialty that has the threat of death every day and others for a job that keeps them back in the states. This is an important differentiator. The men and women getting shot at deserve these visible signals of what they have done. That is why a combat patch and the CIB are so highly regarded.
I agree overall about those in combat and it is what the Army is supposed to do (how I remember, "You're a soldier first").
It should also be recognized that support forces (in my case, intel) also engage the enemy on occasion. I wasn't in Vietnam 3 days before I was fired upon driving a jeep in Rocket City (Da Nang), again a few months later riding shotgun in a jeep coming down the Hai Van Pass to Hue, and once just north of Chu Lai in the 1/2 dozen times I was a door gunner on our unit's Huey.
You do what you have to do, for those in your unit and your own preservation, as well.
Nice to see that Captains still believe they know everything. As members of year group 2011, I am wondering where you get your vast knowledge of how the Army operated in peace time?
You assert as fact that "Unfortunately, Army performance, as part of larger joint force, historically struggles below armed conflict. Non-combat operations like those in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo exemplify where military action did not successfully create space for implementation of all national tools of power". This statement is riddled with errors:
– Somalia had plenty of combat. Im pretty sure you have seen Blackhawk down once or twice. Might think about digging into this a bit more.
– Kosovo also had plenty of combat and the only struggle the Army had as "part of the larger joint force" was in getting any kind of cooperation from the United States Air Force and the Joint Staff. You know like when you designated the only Apache unit in the Army not certified for night operations because Germans didn’t like being kept awake at night by helicopters. I surprised someone from the 82nd did have a story about not jumping into Albania and why. Seems like something you could….whats it called when you are in college….research.
– Bosnia has objectively been extremely successful. WWIII didn’t start. Ethnic Cleansing was stopped. The Dayton Accords have been in place and enforced by NATO for almost as long as the two of you have been on the planet. Please explain what tool of national power didn’t come into play in Bosnia?
– No patch policy can fix Haiti.
Also, did you actually read TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1? You know the one you sited as proof that we don’t know how to operated below armed conflict. It signals a return to focusing on conflict with nation states and specifically names Russia and China. The change is actually how Russia and China view conflict as an ongoing constant rather than something that occurs at the culmination of some sort of crisis and is entirely kinetic. It says that our biggest threats have decided to engage in daily conflict at different levels and so if we are to defend the nation (our job, not optional) we have to fight where the battle is, daily and at different levels. This implies more conflict, not less, and with a higher chance of armed conflict, not less. I really don’t think the Chief is pushing more PT because we are heading into a chairborne future.
"Currently, SSI-FWTS recognizes a unit’s participation in or support to combat operations against hostile forces, as designated by the secretary of the Army or Congress." – Ummm, no. It recognizes an INDIVIDUALS participation. Unit award go else ware on the uniform. Pro tip – once you leave the Division Army, you find out there is more to the Army than Divisions.
"SSI-FWTS recognized deployed overseas service, not necessarily in an area of active combat." I guess you missed the whole "Originated in World War II" and "return from overseas". True, they didnt spell out that if you happened to be overseas and you happened to somehow manage to not be in combat then you shouldn’t wear a "combat" patch but everyone knew who those 5 guys were and it wasn’t an issue. Believe it or not, there was a time when we didn’t have to account for EVERY exception in a policy to keep someone from abusing said policy. And since then our use of the patch has "evolved". Did you know that Army policies are not chiseled in stone from the deity with instructions to never change them? Oh wait, you do because you are advocating change. Pro tip – when advocating a change to a policy you should not site as a reason the fact that the current implementation is a change. "Your change is no good because its change but my change is good" is not a good argument.
You site the "Associated Unit" policy and gloss over that just like "your combat patch makes me feel bad", it’s a policy to make other than Active Duty units not feel left out. Notice no active duty unit is swapping out 1st Cav patches for Guard/Reserve patches. Promoting a bad policy with a bad policy is a bad idea.
I get it, you want folks to feel good. Thank you for your service at every mention of your job just isn’t enough if you have to go to work every day and see people who have actually "done things" just displaying it for everyone to see. Instead of looking at those folks and being angry, you might try talking to them and….gasp…learning something. Or you can try to get rid of things that make you feel bad. Your choice.
Rob an AD BDE at Fort Polk is a AUP under the 36 IN DIV TXARNG.
The Shoulder Sleeve Insignia – Former Wartime Service has always been under continuous review. It was originally issued for WWI service for those who qualified for overseas service insignia. The authors' vastly misrepresent the WWII issuance significantly either out of ignorance or design. When ships are being sunk next to your coast, then the combat zone starts there.
I don't think the CPTs' modifications to AR 670-1 change much, as each conflict and theater is individual managed. That is why the soldiers killed in Niger in '17 and their compatriots don't rate a SSI=FWTS while a cook in Baghdad does.
I don't think I've ever read so many buzzwords in a single document before.
Why not just give everyone a Ranger and Long Tab?!
I am YG '09 and spent time across US, AF, and Korea. The basic tenants of the article are sound….Army culture needs to change, change comes through action, action comes a great deal through incentives and culture. Although the US Army is an incredibly professional and first-class formation, if it doesn't change it will lose the next great power war. Books have been written about how the US Army continually fails to prepare for the next major war….and the next one is not just going to be about kinetic operations, although that will still be a large part….but its important to acknowledge the future is a mix of hybrid and information warfare as seen in Crimea and elsewhere…this is competition – just as the authors argue. The Army needs to adjust for this competition in many ways…it's not there yet. The authors offer a good starting point…what we see every day and something to move the force as a whole in the right direction.
This was without a doubt, THE dumbest article I have ever read about revising an Army uniform policy. And since I'm nearing age 62 I've read quite a few. The "combat patch" mentality means the most to those who actually see "combat". I seriously doubt the authors were in combat arms units leading young Soldiers in combat to have views like this. So we"re going to trash a hundred years of Army tradition because of a bunch of overwritten, buzz word filled babble by two young Captains. As though removing a patch will help the Army meet future challenges, really? Ugh!!!
What ever happened to the "Bottom Line Up Front" (BLUF) writing style? This article has to be, by far, one of the most lengthy "air sandwiches" I've read. And so, after paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of fancy words and lofty phrases, I'm still uncertain what the hell these authors are trying to convey.
Combat patches as they relate to the competitive culture within the Army? Seriously? All of that higher education – and this master's thesis is the most pressing idea this pair can create?
Just come right out and say: "Combat patches for everyone!" Or perhaps push forward an idea like affixing some sort of letter device to 'combat patches' which would somehow indicate contingency versus United Nations/NATO versus conventional ground combat, etc …
Reading this article leaves me regretting the time I'll never get back.
First, I applaud the desire of these officers to contribute to the success of the US Army and the nation. Kudos. However, I think the implementation of their proposed policies runs into some implementation issues. First and foremost, as Congress starts declaring places "competitive zones", there would be diplomatic implications that would likely lead to politicization of the designation and thus a bias towards not designating truly competitive zones as such. In this era of great power competition, the decisive operations of a campaign could be Chinese port and energy infrastructure deals in NATO allied countries that eventually leads to a weakening and eventual dissolution of the alliance. Never a shot fired, but warfare (political and economic) none the less. Never would a unit sent there see a patch for fear of alienating a faltering ally through a "competitive zone" designation.
Second, I've rarely read so many "get off my lawn" responses in a professional forum. Chiding CPTs who have ideas that you don't agree with for such vanities as using "buzz words" which come from legitimate research into organization and economic theory is not helpful. It could be chilling to innovation. These gents applied education that the Army is likely paying for to contribute to the institution's future success. You might disagree and even find their argument ill researched, but attack the argument not the writers.
Finally, as a proud 3ID Combat Patch wearer, I also appreciate that combat will likely not be what decides the vast majority of victories that the Army, Joint Force, and this nation will have over the coming decades. Sure, there will be combat and we must maintain readiness to destroy the enemy through direct combat. I think these instances will be short, highly lethal, and likely decided well before the first shot is fired. The Army will find success leveraging many other operations, activities, and actions than those normally associated with high intensity conflict. Some cyber nerd (term used endearingly) could be the main effort for a brigade on an Island in the middle of the Pacific. That battle could be further shaped years before by theater security cooperation events, key leader engagements, and the diplomatic wranglings of some FAO. The victory might very well fall to the competitor whose institutions valued and promoted innovation towards international competition better organizationally for the previous decade. I doubt the combat patch will have a significant amount of influence in all of this, but I hope a lot more Soldiers the lead of these CPT's and provide ideas and propose innovations that will prevent our son's and daughters from being on the losing side.
This is a very well written and in-depth article. I agree with the authors. For me, to paraphrase from the article and in my own experience – We are alienating the younger generation of Soldiers. They do not feel like part of the team, and they know that they will not have an opportunity to be part of the team in the near future. So they show less effort. Less competitiveness (as pointed out in the article) and less drive to push themselves. They come out of AIT and want to deploy, and do have respect for those with the patches and stories, but at some point they lose that "awe" and separate teams are formed. If you are worried about how much respect you get from people you don't know (at the PX, Walmart, etc) well, that's your problem. You should take a deep dive to understand and learn about your own insecurity. If you are worried about people you know (your Soldiers) respecting you, they still will. – In todays system of these patches, all benefits seem to go to the individual. It is a motivator to deploy, and I do like wearing my patch. But what are the benefits to the team? (if we are not worried about the motivation to deploy) are there any? I don't think it makes us stronger, in garrison. But clearly, there are negative consequences. Hats off to the authors for writing this article, I think the depth, breadth, precision and fairness were on point, but it might have been a little too much for some readers…..
It would probably be best to simply eliminate the SSI-FWS altogether. The authors go to great lengths to show how its meaning has been diluted over the years to simply reflect a deployment to a combat zone, making it a simple participation trophy. In my mind it has become more of a indicator that you've experienced the deployment prep/deployment/redeployment suck, and ar now part of the "herd." But the SSI-FWS really has no meaning in a broader sense than that – it makes no distinction between the meat-eaters and the sustainters. That is what the CIB is for, I suppose.
With the transient PCS-culture of the Army, showing which of potentially several units a Soldier has deployd with serves no obvious purpose other than to add a splash of color or pattern to the uniform. I owe no loyalty to the units with which I deployed, but wear the patch on my right shoulder anyway becasue to do otherwise maked me the subject of "stink-eye" from those who do and makes me look like a deployment-dodger. Soldiers in my command hanker after deployments for no other reason than to fill in the blank on thier sleeve.
Taken altogether, the SSI-FWS doesn't do anything that compliments the overseas bars and campaign ribbons. If it dissapeared altogether the immediate howling and gnashing of teeth of those who have sunk thieridentity into it would soon fade.
I agree. We have campaign medals, overseas bars, CIB/CAB, and SSI-FWS, all to say basically the same thing. Enough already! The purpose of the United States Army is not to support Vanguard Industries.
Are we going to be able to sew combat patches on our leather bomber jackets?
I am retire 15 years now and all the medal War stories does not matter.
The Civilian population don't give a shit about a patch or medal. In the final analysis, it is what You get paid and Va benefits.
Don't believe me, wait til You get out or retire.
1 tour 2 tours 5 tours- don't matter, the rich politician will undo all your so call good.
Just decide whether to be a lifer or not while Your active.
In the end, it's all about adjusting to civilian life and been happy.
Thank you. As a civilian it wasn't until reading these replies what the patch, or lack of a patch, meant. How do civilians determine what each ribbon, medal, symbol, etc. means? It is not common knowledge.
Better get rid of those patches before some simpleton gets his or her feelings hurt. Here's an idea after the first day of bootcamp give everyone a seal trident. Because everyone is equal in the military? That kind of thinking will get people killed! Want to fix things for the next war, when a call comes in for immediate casevac dont ask if its army or marines that need help before making your decision. Just send the helo because it's an American that's wounded! Here's looking at you Army brass!
Hello – retired Infantry LTC Rich Collins here. I would not change the combat patch policy to try and make some Army personnel who have not been in combat feel better – the way it is now is awesome. I was one of the Soldiers and Officers these 2 CPTs are talking about without a combat patch for many many years in the Army, but I did not feel left out or unmotivated in the Infantry at all, just the opposite – I had to try harder and be more motivated than those who had combat patches was what I felt to show that I could operate in combat some day. I did 3 years enlisted Infantry 1984-1987, West Point 1987-1991, then 20 years as an Infantry Officer 1991-2011. I give the dates to show you when I entered the Army there were many NCOs and Senior Officers with Vietnam combat patches, and several young Soldiers and Officers with recently award Grenada and Panama combat patches. Great respect was given to those who had the combat patches and I couldn't wait to get one. Young Soldiers and Officers without combat patches should not feel left out or unmotivated, just the opposite – they should focus on their training and being motivated, so that when they are called, and they will be, for combat they are ready! That being said don't take combat patches away from those who earned them just to make those who haven't earned them feel better. Rich
Does it really matter if you have a combat patch or not to make you competitive as a service member? If that is the current mentality than I am glad I served when I did from 72 till 92. If you knew your job, the job of the next 2 people above you, you were consider competitive. Many of the NCO'S today are not fully MOS qualified or have the ability to properly lead troops in both the garrison and field environment.
That's precisely the point. Today, yes it does. I have met some people, officers and NCOs, with multiple deployments apiece who you wouldn't let lead your dog to the curb to pee. On the Reserve side of the house I am also seeing that the more deployments one has often corresponds, if they were not Regular Army, to having low-paying or non-satisfying jobs and or no spouse & kids. I'm not saying it to shame anyone but literally some of the personnel I deployed with that cannot be left alone to make decisions without supervision and oversight…I'm talking multiple E-6, E-7, O-3, O-4 types had two prior tours under their belt but yes until you work with them they get the benefit of a doubt because of their patch and times in theater. The scary part is when you start seeing how many troops have patches that are unfortunately know and/or do nothings. The fact that those same people will get a more considerate look is pushing others to run and get theirs too. It's scary to hear E-9s and O-5s emphasizing that a slick sleeve needs to get a patch.
BLUF: The SSI-FWTS is not a "combat patch", it is a "deployment patch".
Lately, the value of it has been diminished by 'battlefield tourism', inconsistent defenition of 'combat zones' (plenty of non-combat support areas qualify, but it depends when you were there), and the introduction of the Combat Action Badge.
The SSI-FWTS is a cancer to unit cohesion as more and more Soldiers scrap and scam to get one in a world where there are few true 'combat tours' available. Let's face it – the 'suck' of a deployment primarily consists in whether you can bring your family, the weather, the lack of indoor plumbing, and 12-hour shifts. If someone tries to kill you, that sucks – but you get a CAB/CIB for that. Call it a deployment patch and call it a day. If you want one, volunteer for an undesirable unnaccompanied tour to Kuwait, the DMZ, Somalia, etc.
I agree with the commenter who predicted calling these 'competition zones' would get political, but so does the 'combat zone' designation. Just call it an unaccompanied deployement zone.
This really is some participation trophy thinking if I ever saw it. Even if one were to do as suggested and lower the standard for right sleeve SSI wear, there would still be new soldiers or transferred soldiers in any given unit that had never deployed who would similarly feel like they were in the "out group" because of their "FNG" or "Cherry" status. Also there would be a definite negative morale impact on all of the soldiers that proudly wear their combat patch like a scar or attach a remembrance of fallen comrades to the deployments that they earned theirs in. Just look what happened when the Army authorized the beret for everyone and all of the SF and Ranger types were so disgusted for a lesson on how a change like this would make people feel.
The real issue here is that military service (read: the Army for this comment) is now the one arena our nation seems to "compete" successfully in. That is because our businesses are losing ground, our diplomats can only succeed by throwing money at problems and can't seem to negotiate, and our spies are so in love with technology they can't seem to actually gather human intelligence anymore (seriously – you have one job intel guys). These three problems are probably all interrelated, but that's a discussion for another time. Anyway, the result is that the Army and other services are more and more being tasked to perform functions best left to other segments of American society and/or government. So then the old saying about "When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." becomes the order of the day. Why not use the Army for making business deals? Why not have the Army gather our human intelligence? Why not have the Army broker treaties and trade deals? I can tell you why. For the same reason the Army is no good at all the rest of the "Operations Other Than War" spectrum. The Army is best left to warfighting, because that's what it was created to do. It is not a versatile tool that can help our nation compete in other areas.
If the current population of the Army's soldiers and staff can't accept that narrow of a mission set, and if it begins to think like a corporate entity, soon two things will happen. First the reach of the Army will exceed it's grasp because there is not nearly enough force to spread across all that undefined OOTW spectrum. Second, soldiers will demand ever increasing concessions from leadership until they are either (as a group) combat ineffective and can no longer perform their primary mission of warfighting, or worse: they form some semblance of a monopoly on their labor or service – effectively unionizing – thus leading to fatal paralysis of the force.
In my opinion, there is no time like the present for the Army leadership to pull it's head out and address real issues. Just because our leadership thinks great power war is unthinkable doesn't mean that it can't or won't happen. When I see the news, I see a one-for-one palette swap of Communist China for Imperial Japan pre-WWII, and the same inevitable approaching conflict resulting form it. Instead of fretting over dress-up options and how a patch might be seen as some kind of micro-aggression to someone that hadn't earned it yet, they should prioritize training and standards that will help our nation win that great power conflict or at least act as a credible deterrent. Soldiers that feel like they have the best training and equipment (and I don't mean a beret) and a mission that they know matters to the greatest nation on Earth, are soldiers that have good morale. Soldiers that are pre-occupied with dress code violations and that can't be proud because their mission of truck-driving to hand out MRE's in humanitarian relief doesn't get them a cool sleeve insignia are not soldiers in the right mindset. Leadership needs to be able to make the case for why uniformity as currently defined matters, and why honors worn on a uniform are appropriate. Leadership also needs to be able to either sell the necessity of OOTW missions or find a way to politely decline them.
I agree with both the naysayers and the two POG ass officers. Both Captains have their patches so I think this was just low hanging fruit they used to get published.
I would be amenable to the idea so long as the deployment patch for a “competitive deployment AOR” received a deployment patch of the “US ARMY star logo” patch, and not a unit patch.
This would further help distinguish type of deployment, while feeding the snowflakes their dEpLoYmEnT pAtCh, and keeping the salty gwot bro vets that hang their hats and personalities on patches happy as well.
I remember as a cadet at West Point the first time I saw an officer without a combat patch. He had been commissioned in 1970 and assigned to Europe and never made it to Vietnam. It struck me as strange at the time. I have mixed feelings about the article, but I would like to suggest a few points for consideration. First, an analysis of the post Vietnam period may shed some light on the subject. Second, I believe that the switch from OD green fatigues to BDUs was a uniform change that had an impact. Third, the Marines eliminated unit patches many years ago for a reason they believed would be beneficial. Was it? Fourth, what is the impact on the enemy when they see the patches of the units opposed to them? I my day too many junior officers were "badge collectors" and spent time "earning" badges rather than doing their jobs and learning about their profession.