Effects cell Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division donned combat patches Feb. 15, 2010, during a ceremony in the Overlord conference room in the General John W. Vessey Headquarters Building at Contingency Operating Base, Iraq.

As he entered the room for a scheduled briefing, Lt. Col. Ralph L. Kauzlarich, deputy chief of staff for effects, asked Sgt. Major Wade P. Wells, the cell's sergeant major, if everyone who was supposed to be at the meeting had arrived.

Wells gave the affirmative, and then, with a big smile, he gestured to the row of Soldiers lining the wall: Lt. Col. Enrique M. De La Paz, Maj. Randal E. Hickman, Maj. Gregory M. Morris, Maj. Rodger Pitt, Maj. Darrell F. Vaughan, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph A. Walsh and Pfc. Canaan E. Potter.

"But, there are some folks behind you who don't seem to be in the right uniform," Wells quipped.
Thus the combat patch ceremony began.

"This is a pretty big deal," said Kauzlarich, who then pointed to his own 1st Inf. Div. combat patch. "The opportunity to wear this right here on your right shoulder."

The division was formed June 8, 1917 and is the Army's oldest standing division and carries an incredible history, he said.

"I have worn numerous combat patches-as I have served in numerous units that have fought in combat. But, there is no patch greater than this one and I will never take it off," he said. "This is the one."

An additional honor for the officers in the room, he said, was that, by right of their serving in a combat zone with the 1st Inf. Div., they are welcome to attend an annual dinner for commissioned combat veterans from the division.

"There are former commanding generals who can't even go to that dinner-can't do it, because they never served with the Big Red One in combat," he said.

The regular unit patch becomes the combat patch when it is affixed to the right sleeve. In the regulations it is called: "Shoulder Sleeve Insignia--Former Wartime Service," and it is authorized on the right sleeve of Soldiers who have served in an officially designated hostile area of operations in units participating or supporting ground operations that have lasted more than 30 days while exposed to the threat of enemy attack. The custom began with Soldiers during World War II.

In the past, some Soldiers have been confused about which patch they should wear, especially given the modular nature of unit deployments in modern operations.

For that reason, the regulations were updated in March 2007. They now state that Soldiers are to wear the patch of the first unit in their chain of command above the platoon level with a unique patch.

Wearing the combat patch is optional, and Soldiers entitled to more than one patch are free to choose which one they wear.

As Kauzlarich approached each Soldier, the Soldier handed him a subdued 1st Inf. Div. patch with hooked backing, which Kauzlarich pressed to the subdued pile on the Soldier's right sleeve.

There was a handshake, a short chat, and then on to the next Soldier.

When the last Soldier had been patched, the room packed with members of the effects section and other well-wishers burst into a wave of applause and "hoo-ahs" through which the deputy called out, "Let's sing the Big Red One song!"

When the singing was done, there was more clapping and hoots, and a visibly thrilled Kauzlarich closed the ritual with an offer:

"Now, all you other monkeys out there with those wacky patches on: Put the right one on. If you want us to put it on for ya', then come right over."