By Sgt. Lindsey Bradford, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs OfficeNovember 13, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, TALLIL, Iraq - Passing by fellow Soldiers, it may be instinctual to gaze at their right shoulder and indentify which unit that Soldier has been to combat with. For brothers and sisters in arms, it could be an icebreaker or a chance to share fond memories. For those wearing the patch, it will always serve as a reminder of the Soldiers he or she served with.
On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the Soldiers of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., earned the privilege of wearing the unit's patch on their right arm during a combat patch ceremony at Contingency Operating Base Adder in Tallil, Iraq.
The shield-shaped patch is divided diagonally by two colors, silver and blue, symbolizing the responsibility for acquisition and processing of tactical and strategic intelligence. The sword in the middle symbolizes the aggressiveness and physical danger inherent in military intelligence operations. The lightning bolt on each side of the sword refers to the electronic warfare capabilities of the unit and the commander's need for accurate and ready intelligence from all sources.
Addressing the audience, 201st BfSB commander, Col. Robert Whalen, welcomed everyone in attendance and described the ceremony as a way to set apart the newest members a select group within the United States Army.
"They are the men and women who have earned the privilege of wearing what the Army calls the 'shoulder sleeve insignia-former wartime service'," the Springfield, Va., native said. "It's what most of us simply call the 'combat patch'."
Started in 1941, during World War II, the combat patch has a long, significant heritage; Troops who had served under hostile fire moved their unit patches from their left to their right shoulder to serve as a permanent memento of an experience beyond the imagination of most Americans, explained Whalen.
Army Regulation 670-1 describes the wear of the combat patch as allowing only Soldiers who were assigned to U.S. Army units, meeting specific criteria, as being authorized to wear the patch. Some, but not all, of that criteria includes: units must have actively participated in, or supported, ground combat operations against hostile forces; combat must have lasted longer than 30 days (exceptions are approved by the Army Chief of Staff); and approval from the Army Chief of Staff.
"But the regulation leaves out a deeper truth," Whalen said. "Our civilian brothers and sisters don't know much about Army uniforms, but when they pass by you on the street, when they see that second patch and shake your hand in a restaurant or offer their first-class seat to you on your flight home - they know."
Those same civilians are the ones that make up 99 percent of Americans who are not in the service. The other one percent, Whalen said, are those who have stood before the flag and pledged their oath of allegiance to the United States armed forces, knowing they will see war.
"A boss of mine, former Army secretary Pete Geren, called it 'the one percent factor'," Whalen said. "The one percent who know exactly what they're in for and still say 'yes' when everybody else says 'not now', or 'maybe later' or 'someday'. The combat patch is the visible, tangible, enduring evidence of your presence among that one percent."
Included in that one percent is Spc. Jeffrey Tucker, an air movement and command post of the future operator with Headquarters Company, 201st BfSB, from Portland, Ore.
Tucker, who has served overseas in GrafenwzAfAPhr, Germany, is on his first combat deployment with the 201st BfSB. Tucker said wearing his unit's combat patch will serve as a reminder of the great accomplishments the unit made while doing their part to defend democracy and fight the insurgency here in Iraq.
"The combat patch is a symbol of dedication; dedication to the mission, the Army and to our country," said Tucker. "It is one part of my uniform that will remain unchanging and constant throughout my Army career."
Tucker joined the nearly 1,000 Soldiers in the brigade, all of whom placed the unit's shoulder insignia on their right sleeve during the ceremony.
Whalen said the ceremony was unlike any other; it served as way for his Soldiers to mark how combat will define who they are as Americans, as Soldiers and as members of that one percent.
In honor of Veterans Day, and those killed in the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, Whalen called on his Soldiers to remember the words of their commander in chief as they prepared to place their combat patch on their shoulders.
"President Barack Obama had it exactly right at Fort Hood (on November 10). 'Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' - that is your legacy," Whalen said.
With that, Soldiers placed the 201st BfSB patch on their right shoulders. The bonds forged, the memories made and the sense of pride earned in the upcoming months will last for the rest of their lives.