There is a long tradition of heraldry in western history from the early Greeks to today. As Soldiers donned more protective armor during the Middle Ages, the ability to identify friend or foe was particularly important on the battlefield.

The colors and symbols applied to the shields provided a simple means of communication and identification. In subsequent years, the popularity of heraldry spread and shields or coats of arms were adopted by religious communities, trade guilds, cities, as well as the noble and royal households.

In the new American nation, heraldry was associated with Europe and the nobility and not readily accepted. As a result there was no central authority to regulate insignia adopted by the government and the armed forces.

Concerned about the disparity in the representations, President Woodrow Wilson directed that the Army establish a heraldry office to create a system of unit coats of arms in 1918. Later renamed The Institute of Heraldry, the office provides heraldic support to all branches of the Federal government.

Equipped with an organization's history, mission and a proposed motto, the institute designs the emblem which represent that specific organization.

Closer to home, the 49th Missile Defense Battalion received their heraldic emblems 10 years ago this month. On Aug. 17, 2005, The Institute of Heraldry granted the 49th Missile Defense Battalion their own Distinctive Unit Insignia, or DUI, and coat of arms.

As a component of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense), the Soldiers of the 49th wear the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 100th. The DUI and coat of arms however are unique to the 49th.

The DUI for the 49th focuses upon the mission as proclaimed in its motto -- Defensimus Patriam -- Defending the Homeland. The sentiment is echoed in the imagery on the shield. The American bald eagle a symbol of the nation as well as power and vigilance appears central in the design. The eagle rests upon a celestial globe over the arctic region and Alaska -- the home of the 49th and the ground-based missile defense systems deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska.

To the top the polestar again signifies both the guiding principles of the mission and its northern latitudes. The polestar is flanked by lightning flashes which represent facets of the mission -- detection, identification and elimination of the ballistic missiles launched against the United States and its allies. All of these are set upon the black backdrop of outer space, the area of operation for ballistic missile defense Soldiers.

The 49th's coat of arms places it within the greater Army - specifically the Alaska Army National Guard. The arms combine the units DUI with the crest of the Alaska Guard, approved in January 1924, with a wreath of argent and sable -- silver and black.

The crest of the Alaska National Guard features the colors of the sky and the Aurora Borealis. The colors progress from purple (Purpure) through red (Gules), orange (Tenné), gold (Or), to green (Vert) and are repeated in reverse along the other side. In the center again are symbols of Alaska with a totem pole depicting an eagle, a bear and a walrus.