By Mikhael Weitzel, Historian, Army Contracting Command July 31, 2014
The U.S. military's basic training creates America's warriors from citizens.
Issued uniforms begin the transformation from individual to team member. During training, these new warriors learn to march, shoot, work as a team, and receive the basic knowledge of their branch. They also begin learning something else; something more powerful than their weapons.
In addition to the uniform and the close-order drill, the new recruits begin to develop a sense of esprit de corps. Esprit de corps is a sense of pride and fellowship shared by members of a group. It is also the drive and determination to uphold the values and the honor of that group
This sense of esprit de corps becomes further defined as Soldiers finish training and join their first unit. Every unit in the Army has a distinctive unit insignia, a coat of arms, and a motto.
The use of these stretches back to the dawn of warfare. The Greek warriors displayed their city's crest on their shields. Roman legions marched under distinctive banners. Knights displayed their lord's heraldry until they earned their own. During the Civil War, the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment carried a live American Bald Eagle into battle. Today, that eagle is still carried into battle on the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Since 1960, the Institute of Heraldry has developed and recorded the heraldry images, the distinctive unit insignia, a coat of arms , and shoulder sleeve insignias. These images and a unit motto are developed as units are activated.
Heraldry items have been developed for each ACC headquarters, brigade, and battalion over the last six years. This provides an initial image for the unit to bond with, and assists in developing unique features of the command.
ACC's motto is "Armati, Comparator, Custos," roughly meaning "Soldier, Emptor, Guardian." Other units have had better success at their founding. The 82nd Infantry Division, one of the first created in World War I from volunteers from all of the states, pounced on the motto "All Americans" to turn their differences into a source of strength (most mobilized National Guard divisions were from one or two neighboring states and were usually very proud of their state identity).
To allow for units to develop their identity through their actions, the Army also recognizes special designations for units. While every unit has a motto, not every unit has a special designation.
As per Army Regulation 870-5, Military History: Responsibilities, Policies and Procedures, an official special designation is a nickname granted to a military organization authorized by the Center of Military History.
There is often confusion between a motto and a special designation, but the former is a heraldic item controlled by The Institute of Heraldry, while the latter is usually a unit nickname. For example, the 3rd Infantry's special designation as "The Old Guard" stems from Gen. Winfield Scott's description of the unit as "the old guard of the Army." The regiment's motto is "Noli Me Tangere" (Do Not Touch Me). The intent of the special designation program was not to duplicate an existing motto, but to provide units with another opportunity to express a direct association with some person, place, thing, event, or function having particular significance to the unit. In short, it is a way in which unit personnel and others can refer to the unit.
Today, "All Americans" is recognized as the special designation for the 82nd Airborne Division, while "In Air, On Land" is the motto. Special designations combine aspects of the unit's history as it develops, and offers a verbal expression that serves as a rally, a greeting, an acknowledgement, and is typically easier to say than Latin. The 19th Infantry is the "Rock of Chickamauga" and the 3rd Infantry Division is the "Marne Division," both from battles where the unit fought and held while outnumbered. The 1st Infantry Division is the "Big Red One" and the 5th Cavalry Regiment is the 'Black Knights," both from distinctive features of their DUI. 1st Armored Division is "Old Ironsides" while 2nd Armored Division is "Hell on Wheels" and the 527nd Transportation Company is the "Gypsy Bandits." Battles, imagery, location, mission, and equipment have all inspired special designations for units in the U.S. Army and a source of esprit de corps for the soldiers.